What tests can I get done to detect if I have migraines?

A doctor may order a variety of tests to try to get a better understanding of what is going on, inside your head.
Here are some of the tests that may be ordered:
  • A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. This allows the doctor to look at the soft tissues of the brain and to rule out dementia, nerve problems and tumors. The MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field, reads pulses coming from the tissues in your brain. During the MRI, you will lie on a table and be moved into a big tube, which makes thrumming sounds. The test allows doctors to see a detailed, 3-D view of your brain's tissues. The test can take 20 to 45 minutes and can be uncomfortable for people who are claustrophobic (afraid of closed spaces).
  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan is done to rule out cancerous tissues or blood clots. CT scans produce very detailed views. While most x-rays use a single ray, CT scans use many rays from different angles to achieve a 3-D image of your head. A doctor sometimes will inject a contrast dye into your veins to provide a better look at your brain. The test typically takes about 15 minutes.
  • Spinal tap. A spinal test tests for serious brain diseases such as encephalitis and bacterial meningitis. It also can check for multiple scleroses and certain cancers. When a spinal tap is done, the doctor gives you something to numb your spine, then uses a long needle to pierce the base of your spine and collects some fluid there. The cerebrospinal fluid protects your spine and brain from getting hurt.
If you think you get migraine headaches, talk with your doctor. Before your appointment, write down:
  • how often you have headaches
  • where the pain is
  • how long the headaches last
  • when the headaches happen, such as during your period
  • other symptoms, such as nausea or blind spots
  • any family history of migraine
  • all the medicines that you are taking for all your medical problems, even the over-the-counter medicines (better still, bring the medicines in their containers to the doctor)
  • all the medicines you have taken in the past that you can recall and, if possible, the doses you took and any side effects you had
Your doctor may also do an exam and ask more questions about your health history. This could include past head injury and sinus or dental problems. Your doctor may be able to diagnose migraine just from the information you provide.

You may get a blood test or other tests, such as CT scan or MRI, if your doctor thinks that something else is causing your headaches. Work with your doctor to decide on the best tests for you.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.
Deborah Davis
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Migraine headaches are usually diagnosed based on symptomatology. Migraine generally begins in childhood to early adulthood. While migraines can first occur in an individual beyond the age of fifty, advancing age make other types of headaches more likely. A family history is usually present, suggesting a genetic predisposition in migraine sufferers.  The examination of individual's with migraine attacks usually is normal.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.