Scheduling an appointment with a new doctor about your migraines can be stressful, particularly if you’ve been going to your family physician for years. You know you’ll have to go through your entire medical history, give details of your migraine attacks and answer what feels like a million personal questions. Chances are good that you’ll leave the appointment having forgotten to raise some important issues, and have to wait until the next visit to get answers.
These tips can make your first visit a success and help you to establish a solid relationship with the new doctor.
What to Bring
Most migraine doctors require copies of records from your previous medical practitioners, not least because they provide insight into the provider’s diagnosis and opinion about your condition. Some doctors are reluctant to release medical records to the patient, so be advised that you have a legal right to request your records and they can’t refuse to provide them. HIPAA rules state providers are required to give you a copy within 30 days of receiving a written request, although they can charge you a fee for making the copy.
Ideally, you should bring with you:
- Your migraine or headache diary: Regardless of whether you maintain records online, use an app on your phone or tablet or make notes in a paper journal, keep track of patterns in your headache attacks. This includes how long they last, the start and finish times, and activities you were busy with at the time of the attack. You should also record your symptoms, the foods you ate, the weather, and the stress you’re under, as these can be helpful for a migraine doctor. This information helps him (or her) diagnose the cause and type of migraines you experience, triggers that affect you, and the success of treatments and medications.
- General medical history for yourself and close family members. It's important for the doctor to know if some of your forebears suffered from migraines, and if other health disorders like spring allergies and sinus headaches may be contributing factors to attacks.
- A companion. This could be a family member or a friend, preferably someone who understands how your headaches usually progress. It’s always useful to have an extra pair of ears available to hear what the doctor says, as well as someone to remind you of anything you forget to mention.
- A recording device. It’s not always easy to remember exactly what the doctor said. By recording the consultation (with the doctor’s agreement, of course) you can play back the discussion whenever you need to, instead of trying to remember precisely what was said.
- A list of all medications. This includes over-the-counter medicines, herbal and nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals.
What to Expect
In your first visit with a new migraine doctor, expect a general review of your physical health. The physician will check your blood pressure, listen to your pulse and potentially order blood tests to establish a baseline for hormone levels and various physical functions. It may seem odd to have him listen to your chest when you’re there about your headaches, but it’s essential to be able to rule out any conditions that could add to the problem.
The doctor will ask about the frequency of your migraine attacks, the treatments you have tried and the successes experienced. He will ask when your migraines first started, how long an attack lasts, if you get other symptoms, and whether you have ever suffered a head injury. Depending on the location of your usual headache pain, the doctor may examine your head to determine whether nerve entrapment or a deviated septum could be to blame.
What to Ask
It’s very likely you will also have a list of questions for the doctor, and it’s best to make a note of the answers even if you are recording the consultation. Some issues you might want to raise are:
- Whether you will see the same doctor at every visit, or if you will sometimes see other doctors in a group practice.
- What is the process if you need help outside of regular practice hours?
- What is the doctor’s full diagnosis for your condition, given that simply diagnosing “migraine” is incomplete.
- Ask for a detailed prognosis or outlook for the future.
- Whether lifestyle changes would benefit you, and if so what these should entail.
- Whether he would recommend preventive medications for you and if so, which? Do the drugs have side effects to take note of?
- Will complementary therapies such as acupuncture and massage offer you any relief, and whether the doctor recommends any particular practitioners.
Above all, try to establish a personal rapport with the new doctor. This is vital to help you develop the level of trust needed for a successful care relationship.