There's no specific test to diagnose migraines. For an accurate diagnosis to be made, your GP must identify a pattern of recurring headaches along with the associated symptoms.

Migraines can be unpredictable, sometimes occurring without the other symptoms. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis can sometimes take time.

Seeing your GP

On your first visit, 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 underlying causes of your symptoms.

Your GP may ask if your headaches are:

  • on one 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 nausea and vomiting
  • accompanied by sensitivity to light and noise

Migraine diary

To help with the diagnosis, it can be useful to keep a diary of your migraine attacks for a few weeks. Note down details including:

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

Taking too many painkillers is an important reason why migraines can become difficult to treat. This is called analgesic overuse headache.
It will be very helpful to keep a record of what painkillers you take and how often you take them. You shouldn't 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, as this can help your GP identify potential triggers.

Read more about keeping a migraine diary on The Migraine Trust website.

Referral to a specialist

Your GP may decide to refer you to a neurologist (a specialist in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system) for further assessment and treatment if: 

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

Page last reviewed: 26/05/2016

Next review due: 26/05/2018