Your doctor will likely recommend brain imaging.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI of the brain can help detect any underlying causes for your headache. During the MRI exam, a magnetic field and radio waves are used to create cross-sectional images of the structures within your brain.
Computerized tomography (CT). In some cases, especially if your headache occurred less than 48 to 72 hours beforehand, a CT scan of your brain may be done.
CT uses an X-ray unit that rotates around your body and a computer to create cross-sectional images of your brain and head.
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and computerized tomography (CT) angiography. These tests visualize the blood vessels leading to and inside your brain and neck.
Your doctor may also order a cerebral angiogram, a test that can show the neck and brain arteries.
This procedure involves threading a thin, flexible tube through a blood vessel, usually starting in the groin, to an artery in your neck. Contrast material is injected into the tube to allow an X-ray machine to create an image of the arteries in your neck and brain.
Sometimes a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) is needed as well — especially if the headache started abruptly and very recently and brain imaging is normal.
With this procedure, the doctor removes a small amount of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. The fluid sample can show if there's bleeding or infection.
April 02, 2015
- Cutrer FM, et al. Cough, exercise, and sex headaches. Neurology Clinics. 2014;32:433.
- Ropper AH, et al. Adams & Victor's Principles of Neurology. 10th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2014. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/book.aspx?bookid=690. Accessed Jan. 19, 2015.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Jan. 19, 2015.
- Cutrer FM. Primary headache associated with sexual activity. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 19, 2015.
- Headache: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail_headache.htm#142883138. Accessed Jan. 19, 2015.
- Bartleson JD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 23, 2015.