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J Neurol. 2010 Aug;257(8):1274-8. doi: 10.1007/s00415-010-5506-7. Epub 2010 Mar 3.

Imaging results in a consecutive series of 530 new patients in the Birmingham Headache Service.

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School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, College of Medicine and Dental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK.


Guidelines recommend imaging only headache patients with sinister features in the history or on examination. We prospectively collected data on imaging newly presenting patients to a UK headache service. CT and MRI results were classified as normal or showing an insignificant or significant abnormality. Over 5 years, 3,655 new patients (69% female; mean age 42.0 years) with headache disorders were seen. Five hundred thirty (14.5%) underwent imaging with large differences in the proportion referred by each consultant. There were more insignificant abnormalities on MRI (46%) than CT (28%). There were 11 significantly abnormal results (2.1% of those imaged). Significant abnormalities were found in patients diagnosed with migraine in 1.2% and in 0.9% of those with tension-type headache. Significant abnormalities in those suspected to have an intracranial abnormality occurred in 5.5%. This supports the practice of selecting patients with suspicious findings for imaging, rather than imaging all patients.

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