CT Scan, CAT Scan for migraine diagnosis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2014

CT Scan and CAT scan are shorter names for computerized tomography scan. Although a CT Scan, CAT scan can’t definitely diagnose a migraine, it can help rule out other causes of the migraine symptoms.

Why get a CT scan, CAT scan for Migraine?

CT Scans, Cat Scans can detect:

  • Brain tumor
  • Fluid in the brain
  • Infection in the brain (abscess)
  • Sinus blockage
  • Brain or head injury
  • Skull fracture
  • Aneurysm (bleeding in the brain)

How does a CT Scan, CAT scan for Migraine work?

In some scans, contrast dye is injected intravenously, through an IV to make the inside of the body easier to see.

The patient lies on a narrow table with their head in a special cradle to help keep it still. The CT scanner will be near the head and is shaped like a large donut. The scanner will move around the head to take pictures of various angles as the table slowly slides in the direction of the donut-shaped scanner. As the scanner moves it makes clicking and buzzing sounds. You must be very still during the exam - and may be asked to hold your breath - because any movement may make the images blurry.

A computer guides the machine to take several x-rays of different angles of the brain.

If you may be pregnant, you must let your doctor know because the high amount of radiation in the CT Scan may harm a developing baby.

A review of 17 studies that included a total of 1,825 patients examined the results of migraine suffers and tension headache sufferers who received either a CT scan or MRI. The 1994 study found that just 2.4 percent had issues in the brain that required surgery, including 21 tumors and three aneurysms. A similar review of studies involving children found issues requiring surgery in 2.7 percent of patients. Because serious abnormalities are rare in migraine sufferers, imaging tests are typically used only if there is a change in the migraine attack pattern or symptoms, a history of seizures, symptoms that might indicate a problem with the spinal cord or nerves such as paralysis, weakness, tremor or numbness.

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