Preparing for your appointment

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to a headache specialist.

Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect.

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
  • Keep a headache journal, which should include when each headache occurred, how long it lasted, how intense it was, what you were doing immediately before the headache started, and anything else that was notable about the headache.
  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
  • Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For chronic headaches, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is likely causing my headaches?
  • Are there other possible causes for my headaches?
  • What kinds of tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • What is the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover seeing a specialist?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed materials that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend?

In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:

  • When did you first begin experiencing headaches?
  • Have your headaches been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your headaches?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your headaches?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your headaches?

What you can do in the meantime

There are some things you can do before seeing your doctor to try to improve your headache pain:

  • Avoid activities that you know make your headaches worse.
  • Try over-the-counter pain-relief medications — such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). Don't take these more than three times a week, because that may make your headaches worse.
Mar. 15, 2012