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J Pediatr. 2013 Dec;163(6):1634-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.07.006. Epub 2013 Aug 20.

Diagnostic testing and treatment of pediatric headache in the emergency department.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR. Electronic address:



To describe the variability in diagnostic testing and treatment of headaches in children presenting to the emergency department (ED) with use of a nationally representative sample.


This was a retrospective cohort study using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey during 2005-2009. To assess the use of evidence-based treatment, we analyzed all patients <18 years old in 2 groups: (1) primary discharge diagnosis of headache and (2) discharge diagnosis of migraine.


Four hundred forty-eight sampled ED visits from 2005-2009 represented a national estimate of 1.7 million visits with a discharge diagnosis of headache. A total of 95 visits represented a national estimate of 340 000 visits with a discharge diagnosis of migraine. Median age was 13.1 years and 60% were female with a primary diagnosis of headache. In this group, neuroimaging was performed in 37% of patients and 39% underwent blood tests. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids were most commonly used for treatment. For children with a discharge diagnosis of migraine, approximately 40% of patients received non-evidence-based treatment, most commonly with opioid medications, and >20% of patients underwent computed tomography scanning.


There is significant variability in the evaluation and treatment of pediatric headache in the ED. Despite evidence-based clinical guidelines for migraine headache, a large number of children continue to receive opioids and ionizing radiation in the ED.

Copyright © 2013 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.


CBC; CT; Complete blood cell count; Computed tomography; EBT; ED; Emergency department; Evidence-based treatment; NHAMCS; NSAID; National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey; Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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