You would think that diagnosing a headache would be the simplest thing in the world since nearly all adults suffer from headaches and when you develop one then you surely know about it. But, in spite of the obvious pain, diagnosing a headache is a little harder than you might suppose.
Astonishingly there are no general tests when it comes to diagnosing a headache and if you think you are suffering from a headache and are experiencing pain then all you can really do is to tell your physician how you feel and he has to come up with a diagnosis on the basis of whatever you tell him. One significant problem however is that when it comes to talking about symptoms descriptions can vary wildly.
Some people simply are not as clear as others when it comes to describing what they feel and our often limited vocabulary does not always help very much. Saying that you have a ‘stabbing pain’ might seem to be a very expressive description to you but it might not necessarily be very helpful to your physician.
As if all of this was not bad enough diagnosing a headache is made even more difficult because headaches come in a variety of different types.
Simple tension headaches which are produced by inflamed neck or facial muscles and dilated blood vessels in the head amongst other things do not usually get diagnosed by a physician because the majority of people simply treat them with painkillers or just wait until they go by themselves.
On the other hand, migraines are far worse and are much more likely to occasion a visit to the physician although even here approximately half of sufferers do not seek professional help.
Physicians are able to make use of a variety of factors in order to diagnose a particular form of headache and advise an appropriate treatment and, even though the pain felt is subjective, the form of pain is an indication of the type of headache. Migraines, for instance, often produce strong pulsating or throbbing sensations while in tension headaches pain is usually more diffuse and regular.
Migraine headaches are also often accompanied by nausea as well as by sensitivity to light and sound, cold extremities and several other signs that sufferers will recognize. And, because these symptoms are roughly identical from one sufferer to the next, physicians are faced with an objective group of symptoms on which they are able to form a proper diagnosis.
Cluster headaches are distinguished by a concentrated pain behind an eye or temple that lasts for roughly half an hour to an hour and then re-occur the next day at roughly the same time. Cluster headaches can continue for a number of weeks and, once again as they are quite regular, physicians have something on which to base a diagnosis.
In cases where headaches are the effect of a serious underlying condition like a brain tumor, physicians are able to identify this without undue difficulty. For instance, CT or MRI scans can reveal well documented brain patterns that can link the headache to the physical problem underlying it.
A headache that tends to worsens over time provides physicians with a clue, as do quickly shifting patterns of pain, and this could for instance point to an aneurysm (a weakened blood vessel) as the underlying cause.
Diagnosing a headache is a complicated business as a result of many different forms of headache and the variety of symptoms. However the secret in all cases is to gather together as much objective information as possible both from the patient and clinical tests.