Family Health Guide

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Headaches: At The Doctor

Prepare for a visit to the doctor by keeping a headache diary for at least a month to track the frequency of your headaches, their intensity, when they occur and whether they interfere with daily activities. Do they fall into a pattern? Are they related to your period? You can tell after tracking three menstrual cycles, says Dr. Diamond. Use the headache diary on the National Headache Foundation website or the American Headache Society website.

Before your office visit, jot down the answers to the following questions:

  • When did your headaches start?
  • How often do they occur?
  • How long do they last (when untreated and treated)?
  • How disabling are they?
  • Are there any signs that your headache is about to occur—like dark spots in your vision?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • What are your other symptoms? Do you have any nausea/vomiting?
  • Do any of your family members get similar disabling headaches?
  • What medications have you taken in the past and what are you taking now?
  • What has worked and what hasn’t?
  • What tests have been done (CT scan or MRI)? Also, tell your doctor about any other medical problems you’re having.
  • Finally, describe the impact the headache is having on your life. Does it force you to miss or leave work early several times a month?

Before you leave your doctor’s office, make sure you have answers to the following questions:

  • What is your headache diagnosis?
  • What is the treatment plan (medications and lifestyle changes)?
  • How often should you take the medications or treatments (daily or weekly)? How do the medications work and what should you expect after you take them?
  • When should you come back for another office visit? (Not all primary care doctors are well-informed about headaches, so consider seeing a specialist if your doctor doesn’t seem interested or says you need to live with them. You may also want to get a second opinion if the treatments your doctor prescribes aren’t working.)
  • What should you do if the medication isn’t working or you don’t like it? What are some signs/symptoms that the medications aren’t helping? What level of success can you expect from the medications?

After your office visit, continue to track your headaches using a diary. Take note of your progress with sleep, exercise and any relaxation techniques you’ve used. Monitor the effectiveness of your medications and note any side effects you’ve encountered. Jot down the number of headache days you experience.