If you have chronic or recurrent headaches, your doctor may conduct physical and neurological exams, then try to pinpoint the type and cause of your headaches using these approaches:
Your pain description
Your doctor can learn a lot about your headaches from a description of your pain. Be sure to include these details:
- Pain characteristics. Does your pain pulsate? Or is it constant and dull? Sharp or stabbing?
- Pain intensity. A good indicator of the severity of your headache is how much you're able to function while you have it. Are you able to work? Do your headaches wake you or prevent you from sleeping?
- Pain location. Do you feel pain all over your head, on only one side of your head, or just on your forehead or behind your eyes?
If you have unusual or complicated headaches, your doctor may order tests to rule out serious causes of head pain, such as a tumor. Two common tests used to image your brain include:
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- Computerized tomography (CT). A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a series of computer-directed X-rays to provide a comprehensive view of your brain.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI scan combines a magnetic field, radio waves and computer technology to produce clear images.
- Taylor FR. Tension-type headache in adults: Acute treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 26, 2013.
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- 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.
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