Diagnosis - Migraine

There is no specific test to diagnose migraines. Your GP has to observe a pattern of recurring headaches along with the other symptoms.

Migraines can be unpredictable. Getting an accurate diagnosis can take time.

Contacting your GP

Your GP may carry out a physical examination and check your vision, co-ordination, reflexes and sensations.

These will help rule out some other possible causes of your symptoms.

They may ask if your headaches are:

  • on 1 side of the head
  • a pulsating pain
  • severe enough to prevent you carrying out daily activities
  • made worse by physical activity or moving about
  • accompanied by feeling and being sick
  • accompanied by sensitivity to light and noise

Migraine diary

It can be useful to keep a diary of your migraine attacks for a few weeks. This can help with your diagnosis.

Note down details including:

  • the date of your migraine
  • the time of your migraine
  • what you were doing when the migraine began
  • how long the attack lasted
  • what symptoms you experienced
  • what medicines you took (if any)

Taking painkillers often is one reason why migraines can become difficult to treat. Doing this can cause a medication overuse headache.

Overuse headaches are usually caused by taking painkillers on a long-term basis. They are not because of taking too many, or just sticking to the recommended dose.

It'll be helpful to keep a record of what painkillers you take and how often you take them.

You should not take painkillers on more than 10 days every month in the long term.

It may also be helpful for women to make a note when they start their period. This can help your GP to identify potential triggers.

Read more about keeping a migraine diary on The Migraine Ireland website

Referral to a specialist

Your GP may decide to refer you to a neurologist. This is a specialist in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system. They may do further assessment and treatment if:

  • a diagnosis is unclear
  • you experience migraines on 15 days or more a month (chronic migraine)
  • treatment is not helping to control your symptoms

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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