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Brain Scans not needed for Headaches >>

Severe headaches are depressing, whether they cause a dull ache or blinding pain. The pain of even a severe headache rarely comes from something catastrophic like a tumor or a bleeding in the brain. But fear of such cerebral catastrophes often drives people to get brain scans. According to a study, about one in ten people who seek outpatient care for severe headaches ultimately end up having a brain scan with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Most of them do not find anything wrong.


People with excruciating headaches go for brain scanning when they do not get relief from medication.

 Some physicians do not think of the most helpful treatments for headaches. That means some patients are not given accurate information or medications they need to treat their symptoms.  Emphasis should be on getting relief from headache. Hence there is no need of brain scanning, given the right treatment at the right time.


Many people do not get relief from the pain. Triptans are drugs that can help impede the headache within two hours, provided the drug is taken when the headache is still mild. More medication is required if the headache continues to persist even after two hours of consumption of medicines. Later, other medicines can be taken to help prevent future attacks.


It is important to take these drugs as directed.  All of these drugs have potential side effects, therefore pros and cons should be weighed carefully before considering consumption. These drugs work for many people if they are used properly.


Unnecessary brain scanning costs more than just money. Frequent scans expose the patients to potentially harmful x-rays that raise the risk of cancer. Scans tend to lead to further scanning if the test gives ambiguous results. Possibly 1% to 4% of brain scans shall reveal something anomalous. Most of these abnormalities are nothing to worry about.


If you consult a doctor a couple of times for a severe headache & he has put on certain drugs, but the headache does not get better, than you and the doctor would start worrying that this headache is from catastrophe. If it is difficult to rule out a structural problem in the brain, then it is wise to call for an MRI. Even though the vast majority of headaches aren’t caused by a tumor or other serious brain problem, people do not hesitate from brain scans as insurers usually pay for these scans.


Consult a doctor if you observe yourself relying on painkillers for headaches more than a couple of times a week. Red flags that signal the need for medical evaluation include:

·         Headache associated with fever

·         Severe headache in an older person

·         Headache associated with symptoms or signs like swelling in the back of the eyes

·         Not having had headaches before

·         Headaches that worsen over the course of a few weeks

·         A headache that comes on fast (seconds)


Most people do not need a doctors’ consultation or a brain scan. Instead, they need over-the-counter pain relievers (for instance aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen) or prescription medications, rest, and relaxation.