Health Care

When to Have an Imaging Test for Your Headaches

A woman with a headache massaging her temples.

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If you have unexplained, chronic headaches or migraines, we know how challenging life can be. You want to find relief, but are unsure about how to find the answers you need.

The best place to start is with your trusted primary care physician, who can develop a plan to get to the bottom of what’s causing your pain. Your doctor might recommend an imaging test, and talk to you about common headache causes and triggers.

Sometimes, lifestyle changes can help you manage your headaches, and in some cases, prevent them altogether. 

Common Causes of Headaches

You may be surprised to learn that the most common causes of headaches will not appear on any imaging test. These include:

  • Caffeine withdrawal

  • Changes in the amount or quality of your sleep

  • Flu or infection

  • High blood pressure

  • Hormone changes

  • Muscle tension in your neck or shoulders

  • Skipping meals

  • Stress

Understanding these causes can help you make lifestyle changes to help you limit the number of headaches you experience or avoid them altogether. And, working with your doctor to pinpoint which causes or triggers seem to most apply to you can offer additional solutions for relief — such as highly effective preventive or as-needed prescription medications — without ever needing further testing. 

When Headaches Could Mean Something More

In rarer cases, brain tumors, a traumatic brain injury or a vascular problem in the brain cause headaches. While these conditions can be diagnosed with imaging tests, they often tend to bring other symptoms in addition to headaches, such as:

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Dizziness

  • Memory problems

  • Personality changes

  • Seizures

  • Slurred speech

  • Trouble walking or balancing

  • Vision changes

  • Weakness in your arms or legs

If you have these symptoms, your doctor will most likely order an imaging test of your brain.

The Risk Vs. Benefit of Imaging Tests for Headaches

Imaging tests are generally safe, but the benefits of the imaging test must outweigh even a slight risk involved for your doctor to recommend one. Imaging tests like a computed tomography (CT) scan use radiation. Radiation exposure throughout your life can increase your risk of cancer, so it's a good idea to limit radiation exposure when you can.

Imaging tests also cost you time and money, so they are ordered judiciously. If your doctor recommends an imaging test for headaches, it is because your doctor feels it can likely offer some true diagnostic insight based on your health, symptoms and other factors. On the conservative side, your doctor may recommend other diagnostic blood tests, dietary changes or lifestyle changes before ordering an imaging test.

Get a Personalized Plan to Find Headache Relief

If you're suffering from chronic headaches, it's time to put your health first again, and we're here to help. Our caring experts can help uncover the cause of your headaches and develop a plan to help you find relief.

We can discuss your concerns and start your plan of care from the comfort of your own home through a virtual visit or during an office visit at one of our convenient locations. We’ve worked hard to put safety measures in place to keep you safe when you visit us for medical care, including:

  • Requiring face masks for everyone in our facilities

  • Screening all patients, staff and visitors for fever and other  symptoms  before they enter our facilities

  • Treating those with symptoms or confirmed infection in a separate areas  

  • Supporting social distancing by covering some chairs and placing stickers on the floor indicating where people should sit and stand

  • Using physical barriers like clear shields at reception desks 

For a physician referral or to find a specialist near you call Call800-DOC-2Day or request an appointment through our  website.

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