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    Headache Basics

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    Getting a Diagnosis

    Once you get your headaches diagnosed correctly, you can start the right treatment plan for your symptoms.

    The first step is to talk to your doctor about your headaches. She’ll give you a physical exam and ask you about the symptoms you have and how often they happen. It’s important to be as complete as possible with these descriptions. Give your doctor a list of things that cause your headaches, make them worse, and what helps you feel better. You can track details in a headache diary to help your doctor diagnose your problem.

    Most people don’t need special diagnostic tests. But sometimes, doctors suggest a CT scan or MRI to look for problems inside your brain that might cause your headaches. Skull X-rays are not helpful. An EEG (electroencephalogram) is also unnecessary unless you have passed out when you had a headache.

    If your headache symptoms get worse or happen more often despite treatment, ask your doctor to refer you to a headache specialist. If you need more information, contact one of the organizations in the resource list for a list of member doctors in your state.

    How Are Headaches Treated?

    Your doctor may recommend different types of treatment to try. She also might recommend more testing or refer you to a headache specialist.

    The treatment you need will depend on a lot of things, including the type of headache you get, how often, and its cause. Some people don’t need medical help at all. But those who do might get medications, counseling, stress management, and biofeedback. Your doctor will make a treatment plan to meet your specific needs.

    What Happens After I Start Treatment?

    Once you start a treatment program, keep track of how well it’s working. A headache diary can help you note any patterns or changes in how you feel. Know that it may take some time for you and your doctor to find the best treatment plan, so try to be patient. Be honest with her about what is and isn’t working for you.

    Even though you’re getting treatment, you should still steer clear of the things you know can trigger your problem, like foods or smells. And it’s important to stick to healthy habits that will keep you feeling good, like regular exercise, enough sleep, and a healthy diet. Also, make your scheduled follow-up appointments so your doctor can see how you’re doing and make changes in the treatment program if you need them.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on May 13, 2016
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