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Migraine Headaches - Exams and Tests

Your doctor will diagnose a migraine by examining you and asking questions about your health and lifestyle. There are no tests that can prove that you have migraines.

Migraines can be hard to diagnose, because their symptoms are like those of other types of headaches. For example, many people have been diagnosed with sinus headaches when they actually have migraines.

It's likely that you are having migraine headaches if they happen often and interfere with your daily life.

Symptoms used in diagnosis

Your doctor may use the International Headache Society's guidelines to diagnose migraines. You may be diagnosed if ALL of these are true:

  • You have 5 or more headaches without an aura (or 2 headaches with an aura).
  • The headaches last from 4 to 72 hours without treatment.
  • You have nausea, you vomit, or your headache gets worse when you're around light or noise.

Tests you might have

Your doctor will check your symptoms and decide if you need to have tests to find out if your headaches are caused by another health problem. Tests may include:

  • MRI or CT scan. These imaging tests may be used to look for tumors or bleeding in the brain. But most headaches aren't caused by anything serious, so you probably won't need to have imaging tests.
    Headaches: Should I Have Imaging Tests to Find Out What's Causing My Headaches?
  • Lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap). This may be done if your doctor thinks that you might have a problem such as meningitis or bleeding in the brain.
  • Sedimentation rate (a blood test). This test can find out if another health problem is causing inflammation related to your headaches.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 10, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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