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Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Headaches

So you’ve finally scheduled a doctor’s appointment to discuss your headaches. Now what?

Headaches come in all shapes and sizes. That’s why it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge about the different types, and the best ways to treat them. And that means scheduling a trip to see your physician. If you suffer from aching, throbbing or pulsating pain, it’s important to get a definitive headache diagnosis. A doctor can also help determine if your pain is caused by migraines and suggest migraine treatments.

Be Prepared

To get the most out of your visit, consider keeping track of your headaches in the weeks leading up to the appointment. “The most important thing is to pay attention to your symptoms and record them in a diary, so you can describe them accurately,” says Elizabeth Seng, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and headache researcher in New York City. Also, write down a few questions you want to ask (or print out this article and bring it with you). Some good ones include:

  • What do you think is causing my headaches?
  • What tests might I need to diagnose my headaches?
  • Could any medications I’m taking be making my headaches worse?
  • How often can I expect to experience my headaches?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Is over-the-counter medication sufficient?
  • If I need a prescription, why do I need that medication?
  • What side effects might I experience from my medication?
  • Should I treat my headaches only when they occur, or should I take medication every day?
  • How can I tell if a headache’s severity is dangerous?
  • How can I identify my headache triggers?
  • How can I prevent my headaches?
  • Are there lifestyle changes I can make to help with my headaches?

Get Specific

Along with asking your physician questions, your visit will be most productive if you’re able to provide details about the kind of pain you’re experiencing. “There’s a lot we don’t know about headaches and migraines,” says Dr. Seng. “But with the right information, doctors can focus on reducing your pain so that you can improve your day-to-day quality of life.” A few things she suggests sharing with your doctor:

  • Where your headache pain is located
  • What your headaches feel like
  • What aggravates your headaches
  • What relieves your headaches
  • When you first experienced symptoms
  • How often your headaches happen
  • If you have other symptoms associated with your headaches, such as nausea, visual changes, slurred speech, fever, or weakness
  • If your headaches hurt more during physical exertion, such as walking up stairs or going to the gym

Be Honest

The more candid information you can share with your physician, the better the odds you’ll find a successful treatment. Since migraines can be hereditary, sharing any family history is important, says Dr. Seng. In addition, be open about your own medical history and lifestyle, including any tobacco or alcohol use. “Those things can contribute to the cause of your headaches,” says Dr. Seng. Finally, it’s not a bad idea to jot down the medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter ones. “Talk to your doctor not only about what you take, but for how long and whether or not you’ve had any side effects,” says Dr. Seng. “We have many interventions that can help treat headaches, but we need a complete medical picture to identify the best strategy for you.”

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