Tests and diagnosisBy Mayo Clinic staff
The following tests are commonly used to determine if any underlying condition is causing thunderclap headaches.
Testing often starts with a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the head to search for an underlying cause of the headache. CT scans take X-rays that create slice-like, cross-sectional images of your brain and head. A computer combines these images to create a full picture of your brain. Sometimes an iodine-based dye is used to augment the picture.
Sometimes a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) may be needed as well. With this procedure, the doctor removes a small amount of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. The cerebrospinal fluid sample can be tested for signs of bleeding or infection.
In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done for further assessment. With this imaging study, a magnetic field and radio waves are used to create cross-sectional images of the structures within your brain.
Magnetic resonance angiography
MRI machines can also be used to map the blood flow inside your brain in a test called a magnetic resonance angiography (MRA).
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