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Cephalalgia. 2003 Dec;23(10):935-41.

Sentinel headaches in aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage: what is the true incidence? A systematic review.

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  • 1The Trafford Centre for Graduate Medical Education and Research, The University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, UK.


The aim of this systematic review was to determine the incidence of sentinel headache reported by patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage, and whether they are likely to be due to recall bias or to misdiagnosis of a previous haemorrhage. Nine studies of good quality, which reported the number of patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage with a history of sentinel headache, gave rates of 10% to 43%. Two case-control studies, in which the frequency of a history of sentinel headache in patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage was compared with that in controls with non-aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage or with stroke, gave an incidence of 5% (95% confidence interval 0.5, 16) in controls, suggesting that only a small number of apparent sentinel headaches are due to recall bias. Sentinel headaches appear to be a real entity. Their true incidence may vary from near zero to about 40% according to the rate of misdiagnosis in the community under consideration.

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