Healthy Living

How Are Migraines Diagnosed?

How Are Migraines Diagnosed?

Key Takeaways

  • Diagnostic tests for migraines
  • Complicating factors in the diagnosis of migraines

How Are Migraines Diagnosed?

Migraine is a condition that is mostly mistaken for other diseases. In some cases, it is left undiagnosed, untreated, and even misdiagnosed in certain situations, such as when doctors assuming the migraines are other types of headaches. It is a condition that makes a person experience severe and lasting headaches, in addition to many other symptoms. A migraine may last anywhere from 4 hours to 72 hours without relief. These headaches are mostly found on one side of the head; in other words, they are unilateral. They may also be experienced on both sides of the head, but this case is more rare.

Migraines can be found in two main types. Those with aura, which are called classic migraines, and those without aura, which are also known as common migraines. Migraines without aura are more common, but migraines with aura are still very prevalent. Auras generally imply visual disturbances that occur right before or during a migraine; however, auras of other types exist, as well.

Migraine with aura is a condition which causes symptoms before and possibly during the headache. Auras can be used to warn a person that they are about to have a migraine in many cases. Migraines with aura cause several symptoms, such as feeling thirsty, lack of balance, and blurry vision a few minutes before the headache. Visual aura may also cause flashes of light or other visual distortions. In more rare cases, a person may experience an auditory aura in which they hear things differently than normal or they hear things that may not be there. Mood changes are also indicative of a pending migraine. The resulting behavioral changes may warn people of an impending attack, which is how migraine service alert dogs are often trained to warn their handler.

Migraines cause many other symptoms apart from headaches and auras. This makes it difficult to diagnose the condition, since it can be easily mistaken for another condition. To help diagnose migraines correctly, there are various methods a doctor may employ. These include the following.

Personal History

To diagnose the condition, a doctor is likely to use your headache history. To make diagnosis easier for your physician, you should be able to answer the following questions for your doctor.

  1. At what age did you experience your first headache?
  2. For how long have you been having migraine-specific symptoms?
  3. What are these symptoms?
  4. Do you have continuous or irregular headache episodes?
  5. What medications have you been using once you get these headaches? Do they help?
  6. Have you identified anything that causes the headaches, also known as triggers?
  7. If there is anyone in your family who has migraine headaches? If so, who?

According to doctors, your headache history helps a lot when choosing the type of treatment you should undergo. Therefore, be sure to provide answers that are thorough and accurate. It helps to think about these questions before you attend your appointment. Writing the answers down may also help you remember everything correctly.

Blood Tests

A doctor may perform some blood tests on you to ascertain the presence of other conditions that may affect your migraines. Such complications may be blood vessel infections, brain and spinal cord problems, and any toxins in the system. Additionally, you may have a condition that co-occurs with migraine headaches. For example, people with hypothyroidism may be more likely to get migraines. This condition can only be found with blood work.

Sinus X-rays

This is a type of imaging test used to check possible sinus issues. Many migraine headaches are misdiagnosed as sinus headaches, so this may rule out the possibility of sinus headaches, or it may confirm the presence of sinus headaches rather than migraines.

Computerized tomography (CT)

Computerized tomography is also called a CAT or CT scan. This is a computer-run scan that forms images of the brain. Doctors use these images to diagnose other medical problems that may be causing the headaches. These other medical issues may include brain damage, tumors, infections, brain bleeding, and many others.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This is another imaging technique that may be used. MRI machines use radio and magnetic fields to form images of blood vessels and fluids in the brain, which provide valuable information about the brain tissues. These images are used to rule out other problems, such as bleeding of the brain, strokes, nervous system problems, and tumors. An MRI scan sometimes shows different information than a CT scan, so doing both may not be repetitive, if that is what your doctor deems necessary.

Imaging tests are conducted depending on your medical history and where you are experiencing neurological complications, such as:

  1. Fever
  2. Changes in the vision
  3. Muscle weakness
  4. Mental status disruption

Other cases that can lead to imaging are:

  1. Experiencing headaches that disrupt you from the sleep
  2. Headaches that do not respond to treatment but rather worsen
  3. Experiencing severe headaches at ages of over 50
  4. Having a recent head injury or a history of head injuries

Spinal tap

A spinal tap is also referred to as a lumbar puncture. This is a test done when a doctor suspects any infection, such as bleeding of the brain or meningitis. It involves the driving of a thin needle through the vertebrae of the lower back to get a cerebrospinal fluid sample for testing in the lab. A spinal tap may indicate the underlying cause of headaches, or it may simply rule out certain causes.

The Bottom Line

Migraines and their causes may be very difficult to diagnose and treat correctly. This is because most migraine symptoms can be related to many other conditions, including meningitis, sinus disturbances, hypothyroidism, and many others. It is also a condition that can be found in families, but it may not always be genetic, which adds another complicating factor to the diagnosis.

Always remember to give your story to the doctor with as many details as possible to make it easier to diagnose and treat the condition. With a combination of various tests and detailed accounts of your medical history, you are much less likely to be left untreated, undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed. Be sure to see a doctor for treatment guidelines.