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Diagnosis - Migraine

There's no specific test to diagnose migraines. For an accurate diagnosis to be made, a 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 a GP

On your first visit, a 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.

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

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 medicines you took (if any)

Regularly taking frequent doses of painkillers is an important reason why migraines can become difficult to treat. Doing so can cause a medication overuse headache.

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

It'll be very 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, 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

A 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 a month (chronic migraine)
  • treatment is not helping to control your symptoms

Page last reviewed: 10 May 2019
Next review due: 10 May 2022