Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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?

Imaging tests

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:

  • 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.
Jul. 16, 2013

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