Migraine Headache Visits that involve Brain Scans-This Number will Surprise you

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A record number of visits to the emergency room are caused by migraine headaches, and an astonishing number lead to brain scans, according to a new report by the University of Michigan.

Migraine Headache Brain Scans

Migraine brain scans have tripled

In 1995, about 5% of visits to the doctor for migraine headaches resulted in a radiological imaging procedure testing for brain tumors.  In 2010, that number increased to 15%.

Though health professionals don’t normally advice getting a brain scan to investigate symptoms of chronic migraine headaches, a large percentage of hospital patients treated for migraine illness nevertheless agree to receive the costly- and risky radiological procedure.

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Using 4 years’ worth of information from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, scientists have found that one in eight visits to a doctor for migraines results in a CT or MRI brain scan, though tumors or aneurysms are rarely a factor behind migraines, which are classified as a neurological disorder.

Are brain scans safe?

Groups like the American College of Radiology warn that brain scans such as CT and MRI expose patients to unhealthy amounts of radiation, and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary in order to preserve life.  Additionally, MRI scans often lead to false positive results that may lead to more invasive tests that ultimately prove nothing in relation to incurable chronic migraines.

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However, about one to three percent of brain scans for migraine headaches have conclusively led to a diagnosis of a brain tumor or impaired blood vessel- a percentage that seems insignificant to most physicians, but to the migraine patient is reason enough to go ahead with the testing, even considering the slim hope that the results will lead to an end to constant throbbing headaches, nausea, and allover fatigue.

The study, Headaches and Neuroimaging, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), warns migraineurs to reconsider routine headache neuroimaging.  A link to the Choosing Wisely campaign is also provided.

What’s your opinion?

Would you consider getting a brain scan to find the cause of chronic migraine headaches?

If you have gone through a CT scan or MRI for migraines, did you find the procedure helpful or conclusive?

Do you think medical insurance providers should cover radiological imaging for migraines, or limit brain scans to patients who show signs of stroke or brain tumors?

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Image by Patrick Denker