Migraines affect approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population. Despite their prevalence migraines may go undiagnosed and untreated.
Migraines are as unique as the people they affect. Historically, chronic migraines have been difficult for physicians to diagnose due to the various types of headaches, triggers and a lack of reliable testing measures for assessing the disability of headaches.
Thankfully today, patients and doctors have two reliable tools for describing pain, diagnosing migraines and analyzing treatment—the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6) and headache diaries.
The HIT-6 is typically the first step in diagnosing headache pain and disability.
Using the HIT-6
In 2011, researchers tested more than 2,049 headache patients using the HIT-6. The study concluded the HIT-6 is a reliable tool for migraine diagnosis, serving as a launching point for treatment and effectively bridging the gap between patient and physician.
HIT-6 is a brief questionnaire used to determine how severe your headaches are and assess the impact they’re having on your life. Patients answer six questions related to the frequency and intensity of headaches as well as the work, emotional and cognitive effects of their headaches.
At the end of the test, you’re assigned a score that falls into one of the following categories:
- Little or no impact (49 or less)
- Some impact (50 -55)
- Substantial impact (56-59)
- Severe impact (60-78)
Scores higher than 50 could mean you’re suffering from chronic migraines and that you should follow up with your physician.
If your headaches are recurring and debilitating enough that they prevent you from fulfilling your daily tasks, the HIT-6 is a good place to start when determining if you’re suffering from chronic migraines. The self-test is available online, so you can complete it at home and then take it to your doctor for discussion.
Describing Your Pain with a Headache Diary
Once your physician is aware of your HIT-6 score, you can start talking about initial treatment options. A crucial part of treatment and analyzing its effectiveness will involve keeping a migraine diary or journal. A variety of headache tracking apps are available to make recording your headaches even easier.
Using your migraine diary, you will keep track of your migraines by noting symptoms, medications or treatment used and providing your doctor with a comparison of pain, from one headache to the next. Include specifics about each headache, such as:
- Possible triggers, like light sensitivity, food or smells
- Intensity scale
- Location of pain
- Duration of headache
- Warning signs
- Medication use and effectiveness
- Time of day and what the weather was like
When recording your headaches, be as detailed as possible. Note for your doctor whether each of these characteristics remains consistent throughout your entire headache or if and how they progress or diminish overtime.
Regardless of the methods or information used to record each migraine, remember your accurate description and communication of pain is key for receiving the best possible medical care. Your doctor can only provide a thorough diagnosis and identify appropriate treatment after analyzing the unique patterns in your pain.
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