Case 4 – Headache

You are seeing Ms. Davis, a 32 year old woman, in your ambulatory clinic today. She states that she has had a worsening headache over the last week. Take a focused history of this complaint. Then, examine all cranial nerves except for I, II, & VIII.


  • Onset and duration of headache
  • Location of headache, unilateral vs. bilateral (entire head, bilateral)
  • Severity
  • Frequency
  • Radiation
  • Quality of headache (dull, diffuse)
  • Alleviating factors
  • Triggers for the headache/aggravating factors
  • Temporal association (headache not worse in mornings)
  • Association with nausea/vomiting
  • Vision changes before or during headache
  • New sensory symptoms: weakness, numbness, tingling in upper or lower extremities
  • Photophobia/phonophobia
  • Association with menstrual cycle
  • Systemic symptoms – weight loss, low energy, anorexia
  • Fever and neck stiffness
  • Personal history of head trauma
  • Personal history of migraines
  • Family history of migraines
  • Effect on daily activities
  • Use of oral contraceptive pills
  • Caffeine intake
  • Smoking and alcohol history

Physical Examination


  • Assesses all six cardinal movements of the extra ocular muscles
  • Asks patients about diplopia in all directions of gaze
  • Comments on absence of nystagmus
  • Comments on absence of ptosis


  • Examines for light touch in all three nerve divisions (forehead, cheek, chin)
  • Palpates masseter and temporalis muscles and comments on bulk
  • Tests masseter muscle power by opposing jaw opening
  • Tests right and left pterygoids muscle power by opposing lateral jaw movement
  • States that the corneal reflex should be tested and explains the procedure


  • Raise eyebrows
  • Tightly clench eyes (and tries to open them)
  • Puff cheeks (and tries to deflate them)
  • Show the lower teeth only
  • Comments on the presence/absence of facial asymmetry/droop


  • Assesses palatal elevation
  • Assesses gag reflex with tongue depressor
  • Asks patient to swallow
  • Tests phonation
  • States that taste on the posterior 1/3 of the tongue should be tested, and describes how


  • Assesses power of both sternoclediomastoid muscles
  • Assesses power of both trapezius muscles


  • Examines the tongue for fasciculations
  • Asks patient to protrude tongue, examines for deviation
  • Assesses power of tongue in lateral plane
Case 4 – Headache