Your Headache History

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Harvard Medical School
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Your Headache History

Assess Your Health
Your Headache History
Your Headache History
Evaluating your headache
InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Your Headache History

When evaluating your headaches, your health-care provider will usually begin by asking about your symptoms — a process that is often called "taking a history." He or she will want to know the following things about your headaches:

  • Where the pain is located
  • What type of pain you experience (whether it is throbbing, constant, knife-like, etc.)
  • When you first started experiencing the headaches
  • How severe the pain is (how much it interferes with other activities, how bad it feels on a scale of 1 to 10, etc.)
  • How long the headaches last
  • How often you have the headaches
  • What triggers the headaches
  • What makes the headaches better
  • What drugs you use to treat your headaches
  • Whether you have other symptoms during or before your headaches, such as nausea, vomiting, eye pain, etc.
  • Whether you experience aura (visual disturbance) before or during your headaches.
  • Whether anyone else in your family has experienced similar headaches

The issue of headache triggers is especially important. Some people develop headaches for no apparent reason, but others learn to recognize certain factors that make their headaches appear. Figuring out your headache triggers may be an important step toward controlling and relieving your symptoms.

Your health-care provider will also ask about your other medical problems, the drugs that you take and whether you are allergic to or intolerant of certain drugs.

Although your health-care provider's questions may not always seem relevant, he or she will rely on the answers you give to make a specific diagnosis and to plan your treatment. The health-care provider often will focus on certain features of your headaches to narrow the list of possible diagnoses. For example, he or she will suspect a diagnosis of migraine if you experience nausea during the headaches. It is therefore crucial that you provide as much information as possible. Being honest about how much alcohol or caffeine you drink, about how many over-the-counter drugs you take, about stresses in your life or poor sleep habits can have a major impact on deciding what treatment may help you the most.


Last updated September 25, 2014

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