3-Question Test Identifies Migraine

Researchers Say Test Will Help Find Those Suffering Needlessly

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 18, 2003 -- By asking three simple questions, you may be able figure out if you have a migraine -- an often-missed diagnosis.

If you answer yes to at least two of these three questions, you could have a migraine, according to a new study.

  • Has a headache limited your activities for a day or more in the last three months?
  • Are you nauseated or sick to your stomach when you have a headache?
  • Does light bother you when you have a headache?

The study, appearing in the recent issue of Neurology, calls the test ID Migraine.

Migraines Often Misdiagnosed

Researchers say this test is a major breakthrough because as many as half of migraine sufferers go undiagnosed -- leaving many people frustrated from lack of answers for their pain.

"Because patients with migraine often present [themselves] in the primary care setting, the hope is that ID Migraine will help primary care doctors identify migraine quickly and easily," Richard Lipton, MD, vice chairman of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says in a news release.

"ID Migraine is very easy to use for both patients and doctors, and we hope it will prompt patients to talk to their primary care doctor to get diagnosed and to receive treatments that will relieve their pain and improve their ability to function."

Easy as 1, 2, 3

Researchers tried out the migraine screener on more than 400 patients making routine primary care visits to their doctor. Each patient completed a nine-question survey. Patients in the study either had headaches that interfered with work, study, or daily life; or they wanted to talk to their doctors about their headaches. The patients were referred later to one of 12 specialty headache centers where specialists diagnosed them without knowing the responses to the questionnaire.

Later, researchers compared the diagnosis from the specialists with the nine-question survey and came up with three questions that could solidly determine which patients had migraines. The questions worked regardless of sex, age, presence of other headaches, or previous diagnosis.

The researchers estimate that these three questions would accurately identify 93% of people with migraines.

Migraine headaches are more common than diabetes or asthma. Migraines strike women more frequently than men. The exact cause is unknown. Because the condition is so debilitating, researchers say they hope their simple screening tool will help more people get a proper diagnosis. They note that sometimes headaches have serious causes not identified by the screener, but they say the test should get patients and doctors talking about what is going on.