This article provides a systematic diagnostic approach to the patient with headache.
The vast majority of patients presenting with headache in clinical practice have a primary headache disorder. The most common primary headache disorder in clinical practice is overwhelmingly migraine. Unfortunately, a substantial proportion of patients with migraine do not receive an accurate diagnosis. In addition, the clinical features of migraine overlap with secondary causes of headache, making a careful history and deliberative evaluation for warning symptoms or signs of a secondary headache disorder of paramount importance.
The approach to the patient with headache requires knowledge of the diagnostic criteria for primary headache disorders, recognition of the importance of a systematic evaluation for red flags associated with secondary headache disorders, and awareness of the pearls and pitfalls encountered in the diagnostic evaluation of a patient with headache.