You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. You then may be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating nervous system disorders, such as headache (neurologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to your headaches.
- Write down key personal information, including major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking, and share this information with your doctor.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
For tension headaches, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What type of headache do you think I'm experiencing?
- What tests do I need? What will these tests rule out?
- Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
- What treatments are available? Which do you recommend?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there restrictions I need to follow?
- Do I need to see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- What are common side effects of the medications you're prescribing?
- Do you have brochures or other printed material I can take home? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor will likely ask you questions, such as:
- When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have you noticed any common triggers, such as stress or hunger?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- How often do you have headaches?
- How long does each headache last?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
What you can do in the meantime
While you're waiting to see your doctor, you can take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to temporarily relieve the pain.
Keep a headache diary. To gather information about your headaches that will help your doctor, keep a headache diary. For each headache, jot down:
July 16, 2013
- Date. Charting the date and time of each headache can help you recognize patterns.
- Duration. How long did your headache last?
- Intensity. Rate your headache pain on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst.
- Triggers. List possible triggers of your headache, such as certain foods, physical activities, noise, stress, smoke, bright lights or changes in weather.
- Symptoms. Did you have symptoms before you got the headache?
- Medications. What medications have you taken? List any, including dosage, even if they're unrelated to your headache.
- Relief. Have you experienced any pain relief and from what?
- Taylor FR. Tension-type headache in adults: Acute treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 26, 2013.
- Olesen J, et al. The international classification of headache disorders. http://ihs-classification.org/en/. http://ihs-classification.org/en/. Accessed April 24, 2013.
- Pluta RM. JAMA patient page: Tension-type headache. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2011;306:450.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed April 24, 2013.
- Aminoff MJ, et al. Clinical Neurology. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=66. Accessed April 24, 2013.
- Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://www.thecochranelibrary.com/view/0/index.html. Accessed April 24, 2013.
- Fumal A, et al. Tension-type headache: Current research and clinical management. Lancet Neurology. 2008;7:70.
- Daily diary. American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education. http://www.achenet.org/resources/headache_diaries/. Accessed April 24, 2013.
- Verhagen AP, et al. Lack of benefit for prophylactic drugs of tension-type headache in adults: A systematic review. Family Practice. 2010;27:151.
- Headache hygiene tips. American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education. http://www.achenet.org/resources/trigger_avoidance_information/. Accessed April 17, 2013.
- Cathcart S, et al. Stress and tension-type headache mechanisms. Cephalalgia. 2010;30:1250.
- Taylor FR. Tension-type headache in adults: Preventive treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 26, 2013.