Cluster Headache Diagnosis & The Various Tests Involved
Having a cluster headache attack is among the worst types of pain that anyone can experience. And since this condition is so different from other types of headaches, obtaining an accurate diagnosis of cluster headaches is very important.
Cluster headaches occur in patterns, so it is essential to understand the location and severity of the pain and to assess the other symptoms that are typically present along with it. Physicians use various approaches to pinpoint cluster headache attack pain and the patterns associated with it.3
Here is some information about what’s involved in a cluster headache diagnosis and the types of tests that may be involved to make this determination.
Do I Have Cluster Headaches?
Cluster headaches are more common in men than women and usually begin around the age of 30. The answer to “Do I have cluster headaches?” may be yes if the headaches occur in groups or patterns and last one to three hours per attack. They are not commonly associated with triggers like migraines are. However there are some risk factors that may make you more likely to have cluster headache attacks, such as consuming alcohol or the use of cardiac medications like nitroglycerine.2
It is crucial to consult an experienced physician about suspected cluster headache attack symptoms to determine if a cluster headache diagnosis is actually correct. The first step in making a diagnosis is to review the pattern of recurrent headaches over a period of time.1
Neurologic Physical Exam
An experienced physician will do a physical exam on you to assess your neurological status. This will involve looking at things like memory/brain function, as well as assessing your reflexes, senses and nerve function.
CT Scan or MRI
Imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs, are commonly used to help doctors make a cluster headache diagnosis.2 A CT scan uses multiple X-rays to view a cross-section of the brain. Meanwhile, an MRI uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create comprehensive images of the blood vessels and brain. The brain CT scan or MRI will produce a normal result for a primary cluster headache. Results may be abnormal if there are secondary causes, such as a tumor.
In addition to imaging tests, blood tests may also be taken to rule out other conditions. For example, a standard blood test may show evidence of hypothyroidism, diabetes, infection, or inflammation that could be causing headache pain.1
In rare cases, an EEG may be used to make a diagnosis about an individual’s headache condition. This is most common among people who have seizures as well as severe headaches.
A cluster headache diagnosis rarely requires a spinal tap, but it is possible if there is a serious concern about one’s diagnosis. A spinal tap can rule out a diagnosis of meningitis, which is a serious condition that can also cause headaches due to infection around the spinal cord and brain.1
References for Cluster Headache Diagnosis & The Various Tests Involved
2. Healthline. How To Treat Cluster Headaches Yourself Naturally. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/cluster-headache-natural-treatment#causes.
3. Mayo Clinic. Cluster Headache. Retrieved on August 22, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cluster-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20352080
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