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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
  • coordination
  • reflexes
  • 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 had
  • what medicines you took (if any)

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

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

It'll be helpful to keep a record of:

  • what painkillers you take
  • 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.

How to keep a migraine diary -

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 have 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.

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2021
Next review due: 26 March 2024