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1.  Neuroimaging for the Evaluation of Chronic Headaches 
Executive Summary
Objective
The objectives of this evidence based review are:
i) To determine the effectiveness of computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in the evaluation of persons with a chronic headache and a normal neurological examination.
ii) To determine the comparative effectiveness of CT and MRI scans for detecting significant intracranial abnormalities in persons with chronic headache and a normal neurological exam.
iii) To determine the budget impact of CT and MRI scans for persons with a chronic headache and a normal neurological exam.
Clinical Need: Condition and Target Population
Headaches disorders are generally classified as either primary or secondary with further sub-classifications into specific headache types. Primary headaches are those not caused by a disease or medical condition and include i) tension-type headache, ii) migraine, iii) cluster headache and, iv) other primary headaches, such as hemicrania continua and new daily persistent headache. Secondary headaches include those headaches caused by an underlying medical condition. While primary headaches disorders are far more frequent than secondary headache disorders, there is an urge to carry out neuroimaging studies (CT and/or MRI scans) out of fear of missing uncommon secondary causes and often to relieve patient anxiety.
Tension type headaches are the most common primary headache disorder and migraines are the most common severe primary headache disorder. Cluster headaches are a type of trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia and are less common than migraines and tension type headaches. Chronic headaches are defined as headaches present for at least 3 months and lasting greater than or equal to 15 days per month. The International Classification of Headache Disorders states that for most secondary headaches the characteristics of the headache are poorly described in the literature and for those headache disorders where it is well described there are few diagnostically important features.
The global prevalence of headache in general in the adult population is estimated at 46%, for tension-type headache it is 42% and 11% for migraine headache. The estimated prevalence of cluster headaches is 0.1% or 1 in 1000 persons. The prevalence of chronic daily headache is estimated at 3%.
Neuroimaging
Computed Tomography
Computed tomography (CT) is a medical imaging technique used to aid diagnosis and to guide interventional and therapeutic procedures. It allows rapid acquisition of high-resolution three-dimensional images, providing radiologists and other physicians with cross-sectional views of a person’s anatomy. CT scanning poses risk of radiation exposure. The radiation exposure from a conventional CT scanner may emit effective doses of 2-4mSv for a typical head CT.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging technique used to aid diagnosis but unlike CT it does not use ionizing radiation. Instead, it uses a strong magnetic field to image a person’s anatomy. Compared to CT, MRI can provide increased contrast between the soft tissues of the body. Because of the persistent magnetic field, extra care is required in the magnetic resonance environment to ensure that injury or harm does not come to any personnel while in the environment.
Research Questions
What is the effectiveness of CT and MRI scanning in the evaluation of persons with a chronic headache and a normal neurological examination?
What is the comparative effectiveness of CT and MRI scanning for detecting significant intracranial abnormality in persons with chronic headache and a normal neurological exam?
What is the budget impact of CT and MRI scans for persons with a chronic headache and a normal neurological exam.
Research Methods
Literature Search
Search Strategy
A literature search was performed on February 18, 2010 using OVID MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Cochrane Library, and the International Agency for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) for studies published from January, 2005 to February, 2010. Abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria full-text articles were obtained. Reference lists were also examined for any additional relevant studies not identified through the search. Articles with an unknown eligibility were reviewed with a second clinical epidemiologist and then a group of epidemiologists until consensus was established.
Inclusion Criteria
Systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, observational studies
Outpatient adult population with chronic headache and normal neurological exam
Studies reporting likelihood ratio of clinical variables for a significant intracranial abnormality
English language studies
2005-present
Exclusion Criteria
Studies which report outcomes for persons with seizures, focal symptoms, recent/new onset headache, change in presentation, thunderclap headache, and headache due to trauma
Persons with abnormal neurological examination
Case reports
Outcomes of Interest
Primary Outcome
Probability for intracranial abnormality
Secondary Outcome
Patient relief from anxiety
System service use
System costs
Detection rates for significant abnormalities in MRI and CT scans
Summary of Findings
Effectiveness
One systematic review, 1 small RCT, and 1 observational study met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. The systematic review completed by Detsky, et al. reported the likelihood ratios of specific clinical variables to predict significant intracranial abnormalities. The RCT completed by Howard et al., evaluated whether neuroimaging persons with chronic headache increased or reduced patient anxiety. The prospective observational study by Sempere et al., provided evidence for the pre-test probability of intracranial abnormalities in persons with chronic headache as well as minimal data on the comparative effectiveness of CT and MRI to detect intracranial abnormalities.
Outcome 1: Pre-test Probability.
The pre-test probability is usually related to the prevalence of the disease and can be adjusted depending on the characteristics of the population. The study by Sempere et al. determined the pre-test probability (prevalence) of significant intracranial abnormalities in persons with chronic headaches defined as headache experienced for at least a 4 week duration with a normal neurological exam. There is a pre-test probability of 0.9% (95% CI 0.5, 1.4) in persons with chronic headache and normal neurological exam. The highest pre-test probability of 5 found in persons with cluster headaches. The second highest, that of 3.7, was reported in persons with indeterminate type headache. There was a 0.75% rate of incidental findings.
Likelihood ratios for detecting a significant abnormality
Clinical findings from the history and physical may be used as screening test to predict abnormalities on neuroimaging. The extent to which the clinical variable may be a good predictive variable can be captured by reporting its likelihood ratio. The likelihood ratio provides an estimate of how much a test result will change the odds of having a disease or condition. The positive likelihood ratio (LR+) tells you how much the odds of having the disease increases when a test is positive. The negative likelihood ratio (LR-) tells you how much the odds of having the disease decreases when the test is negative.
Detsky et al., determined the likelihood ratio for specific clinical variable from 11 studies. There were 4 clinical variables with both statistically significant positive and negative likelihood ratios. These included: abnormal neurological exam (LR+ 5.3, LR- 0.72), undefined headache (LR+ 3.8, LR- 0.66), headache aggravated by exertion or valsalva (LR+ 2.3, LR- 0.70), and headache with vomiting (LR+ 1.8, and LR- 0.47). There were two clinical variables with a statistically significant positive likelihood ratio and non significant negative likelihood ratio. These included: cluster-type headache (LR+ 11, LR- 0.95), and headache with aura (LR+ 12.9, LR- 0.52). Finally, there were 8 clinical variables with both statistically non significant positive and negative likelihood ratios. These included: headache with focal symptoms, new onset headache, quick onset headache, worsening headache, male gender, headache with nausea, increased headache severity, and migraine type headache.
Outcome 2: Relief from Anxiety
Howard et al. completed an RCT of 150 persons to determine if neuroimaging for headaches was anxiolytic or anxiogenic. Persons were randomized to receiving either an MRI scan or no scan for investigation of their headache. The study population was stratified into those persons with a Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale (HADS) > 11 (the high anxiety and depression group) and those < 11 (the low anxiety and depression) so that there were 4 groups:
Group 1: High anxiety and depression, no scan group
Group 2: High anxiety and depression, scan group
Group 3: Low anxiety and depression, no scan group
Group 4: Low anxiety and depression, scan group
Anxiety
There was no evidence for any overall reduction in anxiety at 1 year as measured by a visual analogue scale of ‘level of worry’ when analysed by whether the person received a scan or not. Similarly, there was no interaction between anxiety and depression status and whether a scan was offered or not on patient anxiety. Anxiety did not decrease at 1 year to any statistically significant degree in the high anxiety and depression group (HADS positive) compared with the low anxiety and depression group (HADS negative).
There are serious methodological limitations in this study design which may have contributed to these negative results. First, when considering the comparison of ‘scan’ vs. ‘no scan’ groups, 12 people (16%) in the ‘no scan group’ actually received a scan within the follow up year. If indeed scanning does reduce anxiety then this contamination of the ‘no scan’ group may have reduced the effect between the groups results resulting in a non significant difference in anxiety scores between the ‘scanned’ and the ‘no scan’ group. Second, there was an inadequate sample size at 1 year follow up in each of the 4 groups which may have contributed to a Type II statistical error (missing a difference when one may exist) when comparing scan vs. no scan by anxiety and depression status. Therefore, based on the results and study limitations it is inconclusive as to whether scanning reduces anxiety.
Outcome 3: System Services
Howard et al., considered services used and system costs a secondary outcome. These were determined by examining primary care case notes at 1 year for consultation rates, symptoms, further investigations, and contact with secondary and tertiary care.
System Services
The authors report that the use of neurologist and psychiatrist services was significantly higher for those persons not offered as scan, regardless of their anxiety and depression status (P<0.001 for neurologist, and P=0.033 for psychiatrist)
Outcome 4: System Costs
System Costs
There was evidence of statistically significantly lower system costs if persons with high levels of anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale score >11) were provided with a scan (P=0.03 including inpatient costs, and 0.047 excluding inpatient costs).
Comparative Effectiveness of CT and MRI Scans
One study reported the detection rate for significant intracranial abnormalities using CT and MRI. In a cohort of 1876 persons with a non acute headache defined as any type of headache that had begun at least 4 weeks before enrolment Sempere et al. reported that the detection rate was 19/1432 (1.3%) using CT and 4/444 (0.9%) using MRI. Of 119 normal CT scans 2 (1.7%) had significant intracranial abnormality on MRI. The 2 cases were a small meningioma, and an acoustic neurinoma.
Summary
The evidence presented can be summarized as follows:
Pre-test Probability
Based on the results by Sempere et al., there is a low pre-test probability for intracranial abnormalities in persons with chronic headaches and a normal neurological exam (defined as headaches experiences for a minimum of 4 weeks). The Grade quality of evidence supporting this outcome is very low.
Likelihood Ratios
Based on the systematic review by Detsky et al., there is a statistically significant positive and negative likelihood ratio for the following clinical variables: abnormal neurological exam, undefined headache, headache aggravated by exertion or valsalva, headache with vomiting. Grade quality of evidence supporting this outcome is very low.
Based on the systematic review by Detsky et al. there is a statistically significant positive likelihood ratio but non statistically significant negative likelihood ratio for the following clinical variables: cluster headache and headache with aura. The Grade quality of evidence supporting this outcome is very low.
Based on the systematic review by Detsky et al., there is a non significant positive and negative likelihood ratio for the following clinical variables: headache with focal symptoms, new onset headache, quick onset headache, worsening headache, male gender, headache with nausea, increased headache severity, migraine type headache. The Grade quality of evidence supporting this outcome is very low.
Relief from Anxiety
Based on the RCT by Howard et al., it is inconclusive whether neuroimaging scans in persons with a chronic headache are anxiolytic. The Grade quality of evidence supporting this outcome is low.
System Services
Based on the RCT by Howard et al. scanning persons with chronic headache regardless of their anxiety and/or depression level reduces service use. The Grade quality of evidence is low.
System Costs
Based on the RCT by Howard et al., scanning persons with a score greater than 11 on the High Anxiety and Depression Scale reduces system costs. The Grade quality of evidence is moderate.
Comparative Effectiveness of CT and MRI Scans
There is sparse evidence to determine the relative effectiveness of CT compared with MRI scanning for the detection of intracranial abnormalities. The Grade quality of evidence supporting this is very low.
Economic Analysis
Ontario Perspective
Volumes for neuroimaging of the head i.e. CT and MRI scans, from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) data set were used to investigate trends in the province for Fiscal Years (FY) 2004-2009.
Assumptions were made in order to investigate neuroimaging of the head for the indication of headache. From the literature, 27% of all CT and 13% of all MRI scans for the head were assumed to include an indication of headache. From that same retrospective chart review and personal communication with the author 16% of CT scans and 4% of MRI scans for the head were for the sole indication of headache. From the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) wait times data, 73% of all CT and 93% of all MRI scans in the province, irrespective of indication were outpatient procedures.
The expenditure for each FY reflects the volume for that year and since volumes have increased in the past 6 FYs, the expenditure has also increased with a pay-out reaching 3.0M and 2.8M for CT and MRI services of the head respectively for the indication of headache and a pay-out reaching 1.8M and 0.9M for CT and MRI services of the head respectively for the indication of headache only in FY 08/09.
Cost per Abnormal Finding
The yield of abnormal finding for a CT and MRI scan of the head for the indication of headache only is 2% and 5% respectively. Based on these yield a high-level estimate of the cost per abnormal finding with neuroimaging of the head for headache only can be calculated for each FY. In FY 08/09 there were 37,434 CT and 16,197 MRI scans of the head for headache only. These volumes would generate a yield of abnormal finding of 749 and 910 with a CT scan and MRI scan respectively. The expenditure for FY 08/09 was 1.8M and 0.9M for CT and MRI services respectively. Therefore the cost per abnormal finding would be $2,409 for CT and $957 for MRI. These cost per abnormal finding estimates were limited because they did not factor in comparators or the consequences associated with an abnormal reading or FNs. The estimates only consider the cost of the neuroimaging procedure and the yield of abnormal finding with the respective procedure.
PMCID: PMC3377587  PMID: 23074404
2.  Pitfalls in Neuroimaging of Headache: A Case Report and Review of the Literature 
Case Reports in Otolaryngology  2013;2013:735147.
Headache is a common symptom, with a lifetime prevalence of over 90% of the general population in the United Kingdom (UK). It accounts for 4.4% of consultations in primary care and 30% of neurology outpatient consultations. Neuroimaging is indicated in patients with red flag features for secondary headaches. The guidelines recommend CT or MRI scan to identify any intracranial pathology. We present a unique case where the initial noncontrast CT scan failed to identify a potential treatable cause for headache. A middle aged man presented with headache and underwent a CT scan without contrast enhancement. The scan was reported as normal. The headache persisted for years and the patient underwent a staging CT scan to investigate an oropharyngeal cancer. This repeat CT scan utilized contrast enhancement and revealed a meningioma. Along with other symptoms, headache is an established presenting complaint in patients with meningioma. The contrast enhanced CT brain proved superior to a nonenhanced CT scan in identifying the meningioma. In a patient with persistent headache where other causes are excluded and a scan is to be requested, perhaps contrast enhanced CT is a better option than a plain CT scan of brain.
doi:10.1155/2013/735147
PMCID: PMC3600267  PMID: 23533889
3.  Overview of diagnosis and management of paediatric headache. Part I: diagnosis 
Headache is the most common somatic complaint in children and adolescents. The evaluation should include detailed history of children and adolescents completed by detailed general and neurological examinations. Moreover, the possible role of psychological factors, life events and excessively stressful lifestyle in influencing recurrent headache need to be checked. The choice of laboratory tests rests on the differential diagnosis suggested by the history, the character and temporal pattern of the headache, and the physical and neurological examinations. Subjects who have any signs or symptoms of focal/progressive neurological disturbances should be investigated by neuroimaging techniques. The electroencephalogram and other neurophysiological examinations are of limited value in the routine evaluation of headaches. In a primary headache disorder, headache itself is the illness and headache is not attributed to any other disorder (e.g. migraine, tension-type headache, cluster headache and other trigeminal autonomic cephalgias). In secondary headache disorders, headache is the symptom of identifiable structural, metabolic or other abnormality. Red flags include the first or worst headache ever in the life, recent headache onset, increasing severity or frequency, occipital location, awakening from sleep because of headache, headache occurring exclusively in the morning associated with severe vomiting and headache associated with straining. Thus, the differential diagnosis between primary and secondary headaches rests mainly on clinical criteria. A thorough evaluation of headache in children and adolescents is necessary to make the correct diagnosis and initiate treatment, bearing in mind that children with headache are more likely to experience psychosocial adversity and to grow up with an excess of both headache and other physical and psychiatric symptoms and this creates an important healthcare problem for their future life.
doi:10.1007/s10194-011-0297-5
PMCID: PMC3056001  PMID: 21359874
Headache; Childhood; Paediatric headaches; Diagnosis; Epidemiology; Defining features
4.  Overview of diagnosis and management of paediatric headache. Part I: diagnosis 
Headache is the most common somatic complaint in children and adolescents. The evaluation should include detailed history of children and adolescents completed by detailed general and neurological examinations. Moreover, the possible role of psychological factors, life events and excessively stressful lifestyle in influencing recurrent headache need to be checked. The choice of laboratory tests rests on the differential diagnosis suggested by the history, the character and temporal pattern of the headache, and the physical and neurological examinations. Subjects who have any signs or symptoms of focal/progressive neurological disturbances should be investigated by neuroimaging techniques. The electroencephalogram and other neurophysiological examinations are of limited value in the routine evaluation of headaches. In a primary headache disorder, headache itself is the illness and headache is not attributed to any other disorder (e.g. migraine, tension-type headache, cluster headache and other trigeminal autonomic cephalgias). In secondary headache disorders, headache is the symptom of identifiable structural, metabolic or other abnormality. Red flags include the first or worst headache ever in the life, recent headache onset, increasing severity or frequency, occipital location, awakening from sleep because of headache, headache occurring exclusively in the morning associated with severe vomiting and headache associated with straining. Thus, the differential diagnosis between primary and secondary headaches rests mainly on clinical criteria. A thorough evaluation of headache in children and adolescents is necessary to make the correct diagnosis and initiate treatment, bearing in mind that children with headache are more likely to experience psychosocial adversity and to grow up with an excess of both headache and other physical and psychiatric symptoms and this creates an important healthcare problem for their future life.
doi:10.1007/s10194-011-0297-5
PMCID: PMC3056001  PMID: 21359874
Headache; Childhood; Paediatric headaches; Diagnosis; Epidemiology; Defining features
5.  Classification and clinical features of headache patients: an outpatient clinic study from China 
The Journal of Headache and Pain  2011;12(5):561-567.
This study aimed to analyze and classify the clinical features of headache in neurological outpatients. A cross-sectional study was conducted consecutively from March to May 2010 for headache among general neurological outpatients attending the First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University. Personal interviews were carried out and a questionnaire was used to collect medical records. Diagnosis of headache was according to the International classification of headache disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II). Headache patients accounted for 19.5% of the general neurology clinic outpatients. A total of 843 (50.1%) patients were defined as having primary headache, 454 (27%) secondary headache, and 386 (23%) headache not otherwise specified (headache NOS). For primary headache, 401 (23.8%) had migraine, 399 (23.7%) tension-type headache (TTH), 8 (0.5%) cluster headache and 35 (2.1%) other headache types. Overall, migraine patients suffered (1) more severe headache intensity, (2) longer than 6 years of headache history and (3) more common analgesic medications use than TTH ones (p < 0.001).TTH patients had more frequent episodes of headaches than migraine patients, and typically headache frequency exceeded 15 days/month (p < 0.001); 22.8% of primary headache patients were defined as chronic daily headache. Almost 20% of outpatient visits to the general neurology department were of headache patients, predominantly primary headache of migraine and TTH. In outpatient headaches, more attention should be given to headache intensity and duration of headache history for migraine patients, while more attention to headache frequency should be given for the TTH ones.
doi:10.1007/s10194-011-0360-2
PMCID: PMC3173628  PMID: 21744226
Outpatient; Headache; Cross-sectional study; Clinical feature; Migraine
6.  Classification and clinical features of headache patients: an outpatient clinic study from China 
The Journal of Headache and Pain  2011;12(5):561-567.
This study aimed to analyze and classify the clinical features of headache in neurological outpatients. A cross-sectional study was conducted consecutively from March to May 2010 for headache among general neurological outpatients attending the First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University. Personal interviews were carried out and a questionnaire was used to collect medical records. Diagnosis of headache was according to the International classification of headache disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II). Headache patients accounted for 19.5% of the general neurology clinic outpatients. A total of 843 (50.1%) patients were defined as having primary headache, 454 (27%) secondary headache, and 386 (23%) headache not otherwise specified (headache NOS). For primary headache, 401 (23.8%) had migraine, 399 (23.7%) tension-type headache (TTH), 8 (0.5%) cluster headache and 35 (2.1%) other headache types. Overall, migraine patients suffered (1) more severe headache intensity, (2) longer than 6 years of headache history and (3) more common analgesic medications use than TTH ones (p < 0.001).TTH patients had more frequent episodes of headaches than migraine patients, and typically headache frequency exceeded 15 days/month (p < 0.001); 22.8% of primary headache patients were defined as chronic daily headache. Almost 20% of outpatient visits to the general neurology department were of headache patients, predominantly primary headache of migraine and TTH. In outpatient headaches, more attention should be given to headache intensity and duration of headache history for migraine patients, while more attention to headache frequency should be given for the TTH ones.
doi:10.1007/s10194-011-0360-2
PMCID: PMC3173628  PMID: 21744226
Outpatient; Headache; Cross-sectional study; Clinical feature; Migraine
7.  Headaches precipitated by cough, prolonged exercise or sexual activity: a prospective etiological and clinical study 
The Journal of Headache and Pain  2008;9(5):259-266.
Headaches provoked by cough, prolonged physical exercise and sexual activity have not been studied prospectively, clinically and neuroradiologically. Our aim was to delimitate characteristics, etiology, response to treatment and neuroradiological diagnostic protocol of those patients who consult to a general Neurological Department because of provoked headache. Those patients who consulted due to provoked headaches between 1996 and 2006 were interviewed in depth and followed-up for at least 1 year. Neuroradiological protocol included cranio-cervical MRI for all patients with cough headache and dynamic cerebrospinal functional MRI in secondary cough headache cases. In patients with headache provoked by prolonged physical exercise or/and sexual activity cranial neuroimaging (CT and/or MRI) was performed and, in case of suspicion of subarachnoid bleeding, angioMRI and/or lumbar tap were carried out. A total of 6,412 patients consulted due to headache during the 10 years of the study. The number of patients who had consulted due to any of these headaches is 97 (1.5% of all headaches). Diagnostic distribution was as follows: 68 patients (70.1%) consulted due to cough headache, 11 (11.3%) due to exertional headache and 18 (18.6%) due to sexual headache. A total of 28 patients (41.2%) out of 68 were diagnosed of primary cough headache, while the remaining 40 (58.8%) had secondary cough headache, always due to structural lesions in the posterior fossa, which in most cases was a Chiari type I malformation. In seven patients, cough headache was precipitated by treatment with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. As compared to the primary variety, secondary cough headache began earlier (average 40 vs. 60 years old), was located posteriorly, lasted longer (5 years vs. 11 months), was associated with posterior fossa symptoms/signs and did not respond to indomethacin. All those patients showed difficulties in the cerebrospinal fluid circulation in the foramen magnum region in the dynamic MRI study and preoperative plateau waves, which disappeared after posterior fossa reconstruction. The mean age at onset for primary headaches provoked by physical exercise and sexual activity began at the same age (40 years old), shared clinical characteristics (bilateral, pulsating) and responded to beta-blockers. Contrary to cough headache, secondary cases are rare and the most frequent etiology was subarachnoid bleeding. In conclusion, these conditions account for a low proportion of headache consultations. These data show the total separation between cough headache versus headache due to physical exercise and sexual activity, confirm that these two latter headaches are clinical variants of the same entity and illustrate the clinical differences between the primary and secondary provoked headaches.
doi:10.1007/s10194-008-0063-5
PMCID: PMC3452197  PMID: 18751938
Chiari malformation; Cough headache; Exertional headache; Sexual headache
8.  Headache in an Italian pediatric emergency department 
The objective of this study was to assess epidemiology, diagnostic work-up, treatment and follow-up of children presenting to emergency department (ED) with headache. Records of visits for non-traumatic headache to the ED of a pediatric hospital over a period of 12 months were retrospectively reviewed. Headache center charts were analyzed one year after. Five-hundred and fifty patients (1% of all ED visits) were included. Spectrum of diagnoses was: primary headache (56.7%), with 9.6% of migraine; secondary headache (42%); unclassified headache (1.3%). Viral illnesses accounted for 90.5% of secondary headaches. A serious disorder was found in 4% of patients. Forty-four patients (8%) underwent neuroimaging studies, with 25% of abnormal findings. Only 223 patients (40.5%) received pharmacological treatment. On discharge, 212 patients (38.5%) were referred to headache center and 114 (20.7% of all patients) attended it. ED diagnosis was confirmed in 74.6% of cases. Most of ED repeated visits (82.6%) occurred in patients not referred to headache center at discharge from first ED visit. The most frequent diagnosis was primary headache; viral illnesses represented the majority of secondary headaches. Underlying serious disorders were associated with neurological signs, limiting the need of diagnostic investigations. Well structured prospective studies are needed to evaluate appropriate diagnostic tools, as well as correct therapeutic approach of pediatric headache in emergency. Collaboration with headache center might limit repeated visits and provide a correct diagnostic definition.
doi:10.1007/s10194-008-0014-1
PMCID: PMC3476181  PMID: 18250964
Headache; Migraine; Emergency department; Childhood
9.  Cluster headache and arachnoid cyst 
SpringerPlus  2013;2:4.
Background
Cluster headache is a primary headache by definition not caused by any known underlying structural pathology. However, symptomatic cases have been described, e.g. tumours, particularly pituitary adenomas, malformations, and infections/inflammations. The evaluation of cluster headache is an issue unresolved.
Case description
We present a case of a 43-year-old patient who presented with a 2-month history of side-locked attacks of pain located in the left orbit. He satisfied the revised International Classification of Headache Disorders criteria for cluster headache. His medical and family histories were unremarkable. There was no history of headache. A diagnosis of cluster headache was made. The patient responded to symptomatic treatment. Computer tomography and enhanced magnetic resonance imaging after 1 month displayed a supra- and intrasellar arachnoid cyst with mass effect on adjacent structures. After operation, the headache attacks resolved completely.
Discussion and evaluation
Although we cannot exclude an unintentional comorbidity, in our opinion, the co-occurrence of an arachnoid cyst with mass effect with unilateral headache, in a hitherto headache-free man, points toward the fact that in this case the CH was caused or triggered by the AC. The headache attacks resolved completely after the operation and the patient also remained headache free at the follow-up. The response of the headache to sumatriptan and other typical CH medications does not exclude a secondary form. Symptomatic CHs responsive to this therapy have been described. Associated cranial lesions such as tumours have been reported in CH patients and the attacks may be clinically indistinguishable from the primary form.
Conclusions
Neuroimaging, preferably contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging should always be considered in patients with cluster headache despite normal neurological examination. Late-onset cluster headache represents a condition that requires careful evaluation. Supra- and intrasellar arachnoid cyst can present as cluster headache.
doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-4
PMCID: PMC3568463  PMID: 23419954
Cluster headache; Arachnoid cyst; Neuroimaging; Secondary; Symptomatic; Magnetic resonance imaging; Computer tomography
10.  Cluster headache associated with acute maxillary sinusitis 
SpringerPlus  2013;2:509.
Background
Cluster headache is a primary headache by definition not caused by any known underlying structural pathology. However, symptomatic cases have been described, for example tumours, particularly pituitary adenomas, malformations, and infections/inflammations. The evaluation of cluster headache is an issue unresolved.
Case description
I present a case of a 24-year-old patient who presented with a 4-week history of side-locked attacks of pain located in the left orbit. He satisfied the revised International Classification of Headache Disorders criteria for cluster headache. His medical and family histories were unremarkable. There was no history of headache. A diagnosis of cluster headache was made. The patient responded to symptomatic treatment. Low-dose computer tomography scan after 2 weeks displayed a left-sided acute maxillary sinusitis. The headache attacks resolved completely after treatment with antibiotics and sinus puncture.
Discussion and evaluation
Although I cannot exclude an unintentional comorbidity, in my opinion, the co-occurrence of an acute maxillary sinusitis with unilateral headache, in a hitherto headache-free man, points toward the fact that in this case the cluster headache was caused or triggered by the sinusitis. The headache attacks resolved completely after the treatment and the patient also remained headache free at the follow-up. The response of the headache to sumatriptan and other typical cluster headache medications does not exclude a secondary form. Symptomatic cluster headaches responsive to this therapy have been described. Associated cranial lesions such as infections have been reported in cluster headache patients and the attacks may be clinically indistinguishable from the primary form.
Conclusions
Neuroimaging, preferably contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging including sinuses should always be considered in patients with cluster headache despite normal neurological examination. Acute maxillary sinusitis can present as cluster headache.
doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-509
PMCID: PMC3795873  PMID: 24133652
Cluster headache; Acute maxillary sinusitis; Secondary; Symptomatic; Infection
11.  Imaging patients with suspected brain tumour: guidance for primary care 
The number of referrals by primary care practitioners to secondary care neurology services, particularly for headache, may be difficult to justify. Access to imaging by primary care practitioners could avoid referral without compromising patient outcomes, but the decision to refer is based on a number of complex factors. Due to the paucity of rigorous evidence in this area, available data are combined with expert opinion to offer support for GPs. The study suggests management for three levels of risk of tumour: red flags >1%; orange flags 0.1–1%; and yellow flags <0.1% but above the background population rate of 0.01%. Clinical presentations are stratified into these three groups. Important secondary causes of headache where imaging is normal should not be overlooked, and normal investigation does not eliminate the need for follow-up or appropriate management of headache.
doi:10.3399/bjgp08X376203
PMCID: PMC2593538  PMID: 19068162
brain tumour; diagnosis; imaging; primary care
12.  Delayed-onset post-traumatic headache after a motor vehicle collision: a case report 
Introduction
Headaches are common after a motor vehicle accident (MVA). Post-traumatic headaches share many clinical symptoms including the clinical course of primary headaches. Secondary headaches (including those resulting from a subdural hematoma) are not as common, but should be considered in cases of post-traumatic events particularly if clinical symptoms progress.
Clinical Features
A case of a patient with a post-traumatic subdural hematoma demonstrates the importance of carefully examining, properly diagnosing and managing patients that experience headaches after MVAs. This patient presented with uncomplicated low back pain, neck pain and headache which progressed at one month to include focal neurological deficits. Since clinical examination alone may not be sufficient to diagnose secondary headaches, immediate referral to the emergency department may be required.
Conclusion
Primary contact practitioners should be aware of the various causes of headaches that result after a MVA. Headaches, which do not respond or progress, should be followed aggressively to determine their source.
PMCID: PMC1924661  PMID: 17657301
headache; subdural hematoma; post-traumatic; migraine; sous-dural; hématome; post-traumatique
13.  Patient pressure for referral for headache: a qualitative study of GPs'referral behaviour 
Background
Headache accounts for up to a third of new specialist neurology appointments, although brain lesions are extremely rare and there is little difference in clinical severity of referred patients and those managed in primary care. This study examines influences on GPs' referral for headache in the absence of clinical indicators.
Design of study
Qualitative interview study.
Setting
Eighteen urban and suburban general practices in the South Thames area, London.
Method
Purposive sample comprising GPs with varying numbers of referrals for headache over a 12-month period. Semi-structured interviews with 20 GPs were audio taped. Transcripts were analysed thematically using a framework approach.
Results
All GPs reported observing patient anxiety and experiencing pressure for referral. Readiness to refer in response to pressure was influenced by characteristics of the consultation, including frequent attendance, communication problems and time constraints. GPs' accounts showed variations in individual's willingness or ‘resistance’ to refer, reflecting differences in clinical confidence in identifying risks of brain tumour, personal tolerance of uncertainty, views of patients' ‘right’ to referral and perceptions of the therapeutic value of referral. A further source of variation was the local availability of services, including GPs with a specialist interest and charitably-funded clinics.
Conclusion
Referral for headache is often the outcome of patient pressure interacting with GP characteristics, organisational factors and service availability. Reducing specialist neurological referrals requires further training and support for some GPs in the diagnosis and management of headache. To reduce clinical uncertainty, good clinical prediction rules for headache and alternative referral pathways are required.
PMCID: PMC2032697  PMID: 17244421
doctor–patient relationship; headache; patient anxiety; referral; qualitative
14.  A study of headache in North American primary care 
Headache is a common symptom in primary care about which surprisingly little is known. Over a 14-month period 3847 patients making 4940 consecutive visits for headache to 38 primary care practices in the USA and Canada were studied. The clinical characteristics of patients, as well as the diagnostic and therapeutic strategies employed by their doctors, were examined. Visits for headache represented 1.5% of all visits during this period. Most patients (72.0%) made only one visit, and nearly half of the headaches reported were new. Only a small number of patients (3.0%) received a computerized tomographic scan; other investigations were used sparingly, as were referrals to consultants (5.0%) and hospitalizations (2.2%). Drugs (75.2%) and advice (64.5%) were commonly employed, although formal psychotherapy was recommended infrequently (4.5%). It is concluded from this large series that most patients with headache visit primary care practitioners only once; their headaches frequently defy usual diagnostic categorization and often change in character from visit to visit. Moreover, headaches in this series were frequently associated with a variety of causes not often included in discussions of headache aetiology. These findings suggest that the strategies which doctors in primary care devise to diagnose, investigate and manage this common symptom, require further study.
Images
PMCID: PMC1711141  PMID: 3450866
15.  The art of history-taking in a headache patient 
Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology  2012;15(Suppl 1):S7-S14.
Headache is a common complaint that makes up for approximately 25% of any neurologists outpatient practice. Yet, it is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. Ninety percent of headaches seen in practice are due to a primary headache disorder where there are no confirmatory tests, and neuroimaging studies, if done, are normal. In this situation, a good headache history allows the physician to recognize a pattern that in turn leads to the correct diagnosis. A comprehensive history needs time, interest, focus and establishment of rapport with the patient. When to ask what question to elicit which information, is an art that is acquired by practice and improves with experience. This review discusses the art of history-taking in headache patients across different settings. The nuances of headache history-taking are discussed in detail, particularly the questions related to the time, severity, location and frequency of the headache syndrome in general and the episode in particular. An emphasis is made on the recognition of red flags that help in the identification of secondary headaches.
doi:10.4103/0972-2327.99989
PMCID: PMC3444228  PMID: 23024567
Headache; history-taking; migraine
16.  Incidence and influence on referral of primary stabbing headache in an outpatient headache clinic 
The Journal of Headache and Pain  2011;12-12(3):311-313.
Primary stabbing headache (PSH) is a pain, as brief, sharp, jabbing stabs, predominantly felt in the first division of trigeminal nerve. Population studies have shown that PSH is a common headache. However, most people suffer attacks of low frequency or intensity and seldom seek for medical assistance. There are few clinic-based studies of PSH, and its real influence as a primary cause for referral to neurology outpatient offices is to be determined. We aim to investigate the burden of PSH as main complaint in an outpatient headache clinic. We reviewed all patients with PSH (ICHD-II criteria), attended in an outpatient headache clinic in a tertiary hospital during a 2.5-year period (January 2008–June 2010). We considered demographic and nosological characteristics and if PSH was main cause of submission. 36 patients (26 females, 10 males) out of 725 (5%) were diagnosed of PSH. Mean age at onset 34.1 ± 2.9 years (range 10–72). Mean time from onset to diagnosis 68.8 ± 18.3 months. Twenty-four patients fulfilled ICHD-II criteria for other headaches (14 migraine, 6 tension-type headache, 2 hemicrania continua, 1 primary cough headache and 1 primary exertional headache). 77.7% of patients were submitted from primary care. In 14 patients (39%), PSH was main reason for submission, its intensity or frequency in 5 (35.7%) and fear of malignancy in 9 (74.3%). Only two patients of those who associated other headaches were submitted due to PSH. In conclusion, PSH is not an uncommon diagnosis in an outpatient headache office. However, and according to our data, it is not usually the main cause of submission to a headache clinic.
doi:10.1007/s10194-010-0283-3
PMCID: PMC3094672  PMID: 21210176
Primary stabbing headache; Headache clinic; Primary care
17.  Incidence and influence on referral of primary stabbing headache in an outpatient headache clinic 
The Journal of Headache and Pain  2011;12(3):311-313.
Primary stabbing headache (PSH) is a pain, as brief, sharp, jabbing stabs, predominantly felt in the first division of trigeminal nerve. Population studies have shown that PSH is a common headache. However, most people suffer attacks of low frequency or intensity and seldom seek for medical assistance. There are few clinic-based studies of PSH, and its real influence as a primary cause for referral to neurology outpatient offices is to be determined. We aim to investigate the burden of PSH as main complaint in an outpatient headache clinic. We reviewed all patients with PSH (ICHD-II criteria), attended in an outpatient headache clinic in a tertiary hospital during a 2.5-year period (January 2008–June 2010). We considered demographic and nosological characteristics and if PSH was main cause of submission. 36 patients (26 females, 10 males) out of 725 (5%) were diagnosed of PSH. Mean age at onset 34.1 ± 2.9 years (range 10–72). Mean time from onset to diagnosis 68.8 ± 18.3 months. Twenty-four patients fulfilled ICHD-II criteria for other headaches (14 migraine, 6 tension-type headache, 2 hemicrania continua, 1 primary cough headache and 1 primary exertional headache). 77.7% of patients were submitted from primary care. In 14 patients (39%), PSH was main reason for submission, its intensity or frequency in 5 (35.7%) and fear of malignancy in 9 (74.3%). Only two patients of those who associated other headaches were submitted due to PSH. In conclusion, PSH is not an uncommon diagnosis in an outpatient headache office. However, and according to our data, it is not usually the main cause of submission to a headache clinic.
doi:10.1007/s10194-010-0283-3
PMCID: PMC3094672  PMID: 21210176
Primary stabbing headache; Headache clinic; Primary care
18.  Symptomatic cluster headache: a review of 63 cases 
SpringerPlus  2014;3:64.
Cluster headache is a primary headache by definition not caused by any known underlying structural pathology. Symptomatic cases have been described, for example tumours, dissections and infections, but a causal relationship between the underlying lesion and the headache is difficult to determine in many cases. The proper diagnostic evaluation of cluster headache is an issue unresolved. The literature has been reviewed for symptomatic cluster headache or cluster headache-like cases in which causality was likely. The review also attempted to identify clinical predictors of underlying lesions in order to formulate guidelines for neuroimaging. Sixty-three cluster headache or "cluster headache-like"/"cluster-like headache" cases in the literature were identified which were associated with an underlying lesion. A majority of the cases had a non-typical presentation that is atypical symptomatology and abnormal examination (including Horner’s syndrome). A striking finding in this appraisal was that a significant proportion of CH cases were secondary to diseases of the pituitary gland or pituitary region. Another notable finding was that a proportion of cluster headache cases were associated with arterial dissection. Even typical cluster headaches can be caused by structural lesions and the response to typical cluster headache treatments does not exclude a secondary form. It is difficult to draw definitive conclusions from this retrospective review of case reports especially considering the size of the material. However, based on this review, I suggest that neuroimaging, preferably contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging/magnetic resonance angiography should be undertaken in patients with atypical symptomatology, late onset, abnormal examination (including Horner’s syndrome), or those resistant to the appropriate medical treatment. The decision to perform magnetic resonance imaging in cases of typical cluster headache remains a matter of medical art.
doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-64
PMCID: PMC3928394  PMID: 24570848
Cluster headache; Neuroimaging; Secondary; Symptomatic; Magnetic resonance imaging; Differential diagnosis
19.  Primary care access to computed tomography for chronic headache 
Background
The diagnostic yield of neuroimaging in chronic headache is low, but can reduce the use of health services.
Aim
To determine whether primary care access to brain computed tomography (CT) referral for chronic headache reduces referral to secondary care.
Design of study
Prospective observational analysis of GP referrals to an open access CT brain scanning service.
Setting
Primary care, and outpatient radiology and neurology departments.
Method
GPs in Tayside and North East Fife, Scotland were given access to brain CT for patients with chronic headache. All referrals were analysed prospectively over 1 year, and questionnaires were sent to referrers to establish whether imaging had resulted in or stopped a referral to secondary care. The Tayside outpatient clinic database identified scanned patients referred to the neurology clinic for headache from the start of the study period to at least 1 year after their scan.
Results
There were 232 referrals (55.1/100 000/year, 95% confidence interval = 50.4 to 59.9) from GPs in 59 (82%) of 72 primary care practices. CT was performed on 215 patients. Significant abnormalities were noted in 3 (1.4%) patients; there were 22 (10.2%) non-significant findings, and 190 (88.4%) normal scans. Questionnaires of the referring GPs reported that 167 (88%) scans stopped a referral to secondary care. GPs referred 30 (14%) scanned patients to a neurologist because of headache. It is estimated that imaging reduced referrals to secondary care by 86% in the follow-up period.
Conclusion
An open access brain CT service for patients with chronic headache was used by most GP practices in Tayside, and reduced the number of referrals to secondary care.
doi:10.3399/bjgp10X502146
PMCID: PMC2880741  PMID: 20529496
headache disorders; computed tomography; open access; primary health care
20.  Ability of a nurse specialist to diagnose simple headache disorders compared with consultant neurologists 
Methods: An experienced neurology ward sister was trained in the differential diagnosis of headache disorders. Over six months, patients with non-acute headache disorders and role players trained to present with benign or sinister headaches were seen by both the nurse and a consultant neurologist. Both reached independent diagnoses of various headache disorders.
Results: Consultants diagnosed 239 patients with tension-type headache (47%), migraine (39%), or other headache disorders (14%). The nurse agreed with the consultant in 92% of cases of tension-type headache, 91% of migraine, and 61% of other diagnoses. Where the nurse did not agree with the diagnosis, most would have been referred for a consultant opinion. Both the nurse and the doctors misdiagnosed the same three of 13 role players. The investigation rate of the consultants varied between 18% and 59%. Only one clinically relevant abnormality was found on head scans and this was strongly suspected clinically.
Conclusions: A headache nurse specialist can be trained to diagnose tension-type headache and migraine. A nationwide nurse led diagnostic headache service could lead to substantial reduction in neurology waiting times.
doi:10.1136/jnnp.2004.057968
PMCID: PMC1739753  PMID: 16024902
21.  How do patients referred to neurologists for headache differ from those managed in primary care? 
Background
Headache is the neurological symptom most frequently presented to GPs and referred to neurologists, but little is known about how referred patients differ from patients managed by GPs.
Aim
To describe and compare headache patients managed in primary care with those referred to neurologists.
Design of study
Prospective study.
Setting
Eighteen general practices in south-east England.
Method
This study examined 488 eligible patients consulting GPs with primary headache over 7 weeks and 81 patients referred to neurologists over 1 year. Headache disability was measured by the Migraine Disability Assessment Score, headache impact by the Headache Impact Test, emotional distress by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and illness perception was assessed using the Illness Perception Questionnaire.
Results
Participants were 303 patients who agreed to participate. Both groups reported severe disability and very severe impact on functioning. Referred patients consulted more frequently than those not referred in the 3 months before referral (P = 0.003). There was no significant difference between GP-managed and referred groups in mean headache disability, impact, anxiety, depression, or satisfaction with care. The referred group were more likely to link an increased number of symptoms to their headaches (P = 0.01), to have stronger emotional representations of their headaches (P = 0.006), to worry more (P = 0.001), and were made anxious by their headache symptoms (P = 0.044).
Conclusion
Patients who consult for headache experience severe disability and impact, and up to a third report anxiety and/or depression. Referral is not related to clinical severity of headaches, but is associated with higher consultation frequency and patients' anxiety and concern about their headache symptoms.
PMCID: PMC2047014  PMID: 17504590
headache; migraine disorders; neurology; primary health care; referral and consultation
22.  Headache management—Are we doing enough? An observational study of patients presenting with headache to the emergency department 
Emergency Medicine Journal : EMJ  2004;21(3):327-332.
Objectives: To identify the causes of acute headache presenting to the emergency department (ED), assess the adequacy of history, examination, and investigation, and determine which clinical features are predictive of secondary headache.
Method: A retrospective study of alert (GCS⩾14) patients presenting with headache, to an ED over a one year period. Patients were followed up for three months. The adequacy of history, examination, and investigation were compared with published standards. Analysis using Bayes's theorem determined which clinical features were predictive of secondary headache.
Results: Headache in alert patients accounted for 0.5% (n = 353) of new patient episodes, 81.2% (n = 280) of patients had a primary headache disorder. One patient (0.3%) had an adequate history recorded. No patient had a complete examination recorded. Seventy seven (21.8%) patients underwent computed tomography of the head; 80.5% (n = 62) were normal. Lumbar puncture was performed in 23 (6.5%) cases; 18 (78.3%) were normal. A number of clinical features were found to be predictive of secondary headache.
Conclusion: Headache is an uncommon symptom in alert patients presenting to the ED. The recorded history, examination, and subsequent investigation do not comply with published standards. A number of predictive features have been identified that may permit the development of a clinical prediction rule to improve the management of this patient group.
doi:10.1136/emj.2003.012351
PMCID: PMC1726346  PMID: 15107372
23.  The evaluation and management of paediatric headaches 
Paediatrics & Child Health  2009;14(1):24-30.
The management of patients with headaches is a major component of every paediatric practice. In a nationally representative sample of Canadian adolescents, it was found that 26.6% of those 12 to 13 years of age and 31.2% of those 14 to 15 years of age reported that they experienced headaches at least once per week.
The diagnosis of headaches in children and adolescents is established through a headache history in the vast majority of patients. Specific questions can identify those at most risk for headaches secondary to underlying pathology. Similarly, the examination should be tailored to identify those who require further investigation. Investigations are not routinely indicated for paediatric headache, but neuroimaging should be considered in children whose headaches do not meet the criteria for one of the primary headache syndromes and in those with an abnormal neurological examination.
The optimal treatment of primary headaches should begin with nonpharmacological methods. Preventive pharmacological therapy should be considered when headaches significantly impair the patient’s quality of life. Flunarizine may be valuable in paediatric headache prevention, and ibuprofen, acetaminophen and nasal sumatriptan may be effective in the acute management of headaches.
PMCID: PMC2661331  PMID: 19436460
Headaches; Ibuprofen; Migraine
24.  The role of neuroimaging in the diagnosis of headache disorders 
Headache is a common clinical feature in patients in the emergency room and in general neurology clinics. For physicians not experienced in headache disorders it might be difficult sometimes to decide in which patients neuroimaging is necessary to diagnose an underlying brain pathology and in which patients cerebral imaging is unnecessary. Most patients presenting to the primary-care physician with a nonacute headache and no further neurological signs or symptoms will not be suffering from an underlying serious condition. This review focuses on the main primary headache diseases, including migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache, as well as frequent secondary headache entities with common clinical presentation and appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms to help guide the decision on the utilization of neuroimaging in the diagnostic workup.
doi:10.1177/1756285613489765
PMCID: PMC3825114  PMID: 24228072
cluster headache; diagnosis; headache; migraine; neuroimaging; tension-type headache
25.  Impact of headache on sickness absence and utilisation of medical services: a Danish population study. 
STUDY OBJECTIVE--The aim was to study the extent and type of health service utilisation, medication habits, and sickness absence due to the primary headaches. DESIGN--This was a cross sectional epidemiological survey of headache disorders in a general population. Headache was diagnosed according to a structured interview and a neurological examination using the criteria of the International Headache Society. SETTING--A random sample of 25-64 year-old individuals was drawn from the Danish National Central Person Registry. All subjects were living in the Copenhagen County. PARTICIPANTS--740 subjects participated (76% of the sample); 119 had migraine and 578 had tension type headache. MAIN RESULTS--Among subjects with migraine 56% had, at some time, consulted their general practitioner because of the migraine. The corresponding percentage among subjects with tension type headache was 16. One or more specialists had been consulted by 16% of migraine sufferers and by 4% of subjects with tension type headache. The consultation rates of chiropractors and physiotherapists were 5-8%. Hospital admissions and supplementary laboratory investigations due to headache were rare (< 3%). Half of the migraine sufferers and 83% of subjects with tension type headache in the previous year had managed with at least one type of drug in the current year. Acetylsalicylic acid preparations and paracetamol were the most commonly used analgesics. Prophylaxis of migraine was used by 7%. In the preceding year 43% of employed migraine sufferers and 12% of employed subjects with tension type headache had missed one or more days of work because of headache. Most common was 1-7 days off work. The total loss of workdays per year due to migraine in the general population was estimated at 270 days per 1000 persons. For tension type headache the corresponding figure was 820. Women were more likely to consult a practitioner than men, whereas no significant sex difference emerged as regards absenteeism from work. CONCLUSIONS--The impact of the headache disorders on work performance in the general population is substantial, and the disorders merit increased attention.
PMCID: PMC1059617  PMID: 1431724

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