How Is Migraine Diagnosed? | MyMigraineTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up Log in
Resources
About MyMigraineTeam
Powered By

How Is Migraine Diagnosed?

Medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, M.D.
Written by Kelly Crumrin
Updated on May 22, 2024

Migraine is most often diagnosed by a primary care provider. If your headaches are persistent or don’t respond to treatment, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist.

What Tests Can Diagnose Migraine?

No single test is conclusive for a diagnosis of migraine. Migraine is generally diagnosed through a combination of medical history and physical and neurological examinations. In some cases, blood tests, imaging scans, or a lumbar puncture may help rule out conditions with similar symptoms. A doctor carefully considers the evidence of all these tests before concluding that migraine is the correct diagnosis or ruling it out.

Medical and Family History

Your doctor will ask about the history of your symptoms. Provide as much detail as possible about the type of head pain you feel during a migraine, any other symptoms you experience, and the frequency and timing of attacks. Be sure to mention anything that seems to trigger or relieve your headaches.

It’s helpful to keep a migraine diary to record migraine symptoms. Note the dates when you have a headache, any medicine you take to treat it, and any symptoms you have other than headache — like light sensitivity or nausea. The diary may show a clear pattern that can help you identify migraine triggers. Bring this information when you meet with your doctor.

Your doctor will likely ask about family history of headaches because heredity is a major risk factor for developing migraine.

Depending on your symptoms and migraine attack frequency, these criteria may point to a specific type of migraine.

Physical and Neurological Exams

Your doctor may perform a physical and neurological exam. The doctor will carefully examine your eyes and reflexes for signs of nerve damage. You will be asked to move your arms and legs in specific ways to test for weakness or lack of coordination. The doctor will test for loss of sensation by touching various parts of your body with a vibrating tuning fork or sharp or dull items. The neurological exam provides an objective assessment of signs and symptoms that may suggest migraine or another condition.

Imaging

Imaging scans are not necessary to diagnose migraine in most cases. However, if the doctor suspects your symptoms may be caused by another condition, they may order imaging procedures such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Scans allow the doctor to check for evidence that your symptoms might be caused by a brain tumor, multiple sclerosis lesions, hemorrhages (bleeds), or stroke. Imaging scans are painless.

Blood Tests

Although blood tests cannot show whether or not you have migraine, they can identify whether symptoms might be caused by toxins or a brain infection.

Lumbar Puncture

A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, can be used to check for infection or inflammation in the brain. A lumbar puncture involves the doctor inserting a thin, hollow needle between two vertebrae in your back to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, which bathes the brain and the spinal cord. A lumbar puncture can cause discomfort, and many people develop a headache after the procedure.

At What Age Does Migraine Usually Start?

Migraine attacks begin before age 40 in more than 90 percent of people who get them. Some types of migraine are more common in children, while others are more common in older people.

What Other Conditions Can Resemble Migraine?

The process of ruling out similar conditions is referred to as differential diagnosis. Conditions that may resemble migraine include headaches associated with head trauma, temporal arteritis (inflammation of the arteries that supply blood to the head and brain), brain infections, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hemorrhage in the brain, and hydrocephalus (a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain).

If you think you are experiencing migraine attacks, talk to your primary care doctor to begin the process of diagnosis. They can help you learn more about the cause of your symptoms and create a treatment plan to help you manage them.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMigraineTeam is the social network for people with migraine and their loved ones. On MyMigraineTeam, more than 82,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with migraine.

Have you been diagnosed with migraine? What was your diagnostic process like? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on May 22, 2024
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

We'd love to hear from you! Please share your name and email to post and read comments.

You'll also get the latest articles directly to your inbox.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Angelica Balingit, M.D. is a specialist in internal medicine, board certified since 1996. Learn more about her here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

Recent Articles

If you’re living with migraine, you know how disruptive and even debilitating the pain can be. Fo...

How To Identify Migraine Symptoms Early

If you’re living with migraine, you know how disruptive and even debilitating the pain can be. Fo...
As someone living with chronic migraine headaches, you have likely searched for lifestyle modific...

Can Tinted Glasses Help Prevent or Ease Migraine? Rose-Tinted and More

As someone living with chronic migraine headaches, you have likely searched for lifestyle modific...
Medical professionals have long known that cold therapy can help migraine attacks — studies on th...

Migraine Cold Caps and Compression Hats: Can They Help?

Medical professionals have long known that cold therapy can help migraine attacks — studies on th...
Unlike regular headaches, migraine is a complex neurological condition, and scientists continue t...

5 Ways MyMigraineTeam Members Cope With Chronic Migraine

Unlike regular headaches, migraine is a complex neurological condition, and scientists continue t...
Calcitonin gene-related peptides (CGRPs) are proteins that may contribute to migraine headache pa...

What Is CGRP and How Does It Affect Migraine?

Calcitonin gene-related peptides (CGRPs) are proteins that may contribute to migraine headache pa...
If you feel a migraine headache coming on, you probably take an over-the-counter pain reliever or...

How Does Migraine Infusion Therapy Work? 6 Things To Know

If you feel a migraine headache coming on, you probably take an over-the-counter pain reliever or...
MyMigraineTeam My migraines Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close