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Ten Tips on When to See Your Doctor for Headache
Posted March 1999

The following was taken from the National Headache Foundation (NHF) HeadLines (January/February 1999 issue), an award winning quarterly newsletter publication of the NHF. You can reach them at 1-800-843-2256.

Today, more than ever before, physicians understand causes and consequences of headache. New medications and alternative treatment options are available so that the majority of patients can achieve headache control.

Every day, people from all walks of life experience headache. In fact, 45 million Americans have chronic headache and 23 million experience migraine. Still, most patients mention their headaches only as an after thought. Having a special and separate appointment with your doctor to discuss your headache and related experiences will help your physician determine your headache

Getting the most from your doctor's visit
You will benefit most from your doctor's if you arrive armed with information about your headaches. Write down the answers to these questions in advance, so that you won't forget any of the important aspects of your headache history when you see your doctor.
  • When did you first develop headaches, how often do they occur, and how long do they last?
  • Do your headaches follow a pattern? Is there a time of day or month when they are more likely to occur?
  • Where is the location of the headaches?
  • Before the headaches do you have an aura (visual warning), tingling, or numbness?
  • Do factors such as exertion, fatigue, foods, or alcohol bring on or aggravate the attack?
  • Does anything worsen or provide relief during an attack?
  • Has the pattern of your headaches changed with your menstrual periods or during pregnancies?
  • What prescription or over the counter medications do you take?
  • Does anyone else in your family suffer with headaches?
Now, by talking to your physician about your headaches, you can make a difference in your own care. Prepare in advance by identifying your concerns, fears, and expectations of the visit. Talking an active role in your health care will help you and your physician work as a team.

See Your Doctor if Your Headache….
  1. Is sudden or severe
  2. Affects one side of the head
  3. Is associated with pain in the eye or ear
  4. Is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, or sensitivity to light and sound
  5. Recurs in a definite pattern - the time of day, circumstances and duration are consistently similar
  6. Causes confusion or loss of consciousness
  7. Is persistent, when previously you've been headache-free
  8. Interferes with your ability to function normally at work or in social situations
  9. Is similar to headaches suffered by other members of your family
  10. Is different from other headaches you have previously experienced