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Acta Neurol Scand. 2015 Mar;131(3):164-8. doi: 10.1111/ane.12302. Epub 2014 Oct 14.

The value of CT angiography in patients with acute severe headache.

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Department of Neurology, MCH Westeinde, The Hague, The Netherlands.
Department of Clinical chemistry, MCH Westeinde, The Hague, The Netherlands.
Department of Radiology, MCH Westeinde, The Hague, The Netherlands.
Department of Neurology, LUMC, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Department of Clinical Epidemiology, LUMC, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Brain Center Rudolph Magnus, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, UMC, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Julius Center for Health Sciences and Patient Care, UMC, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Patients with acute severe headache may have a secondary form of headache. Standard head computer tomography (CT) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examination are often performed in the absence of neurological deficits to exclude subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). Increasingly, patients undergo subsequent CT angiography (CTA) to exclude cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT), dissection or reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS). It is unknown whether this additional imaging increases diagnostic yield. We aimed to evaluate the yield of CTA in patients with acute severe headache with normal neurological examination and no abnormalities at standard CT and CSF analysis. We included consecutive patients presenting to the emergency room between January 2008 and May 2011 with acute severe headache and without abnormalities at neurological examination, CT and CSF research, who received a CTA in the diagnostic process in our teaching hospital. All scans were rereviewed by an experienced neuroradiologist. We included 70 patients, 71% were women and average age was 45 years. We found a vascular abnormality in 13 (19%) of our patients. Four had either a prior aneurysm or CVT. Eight patients had an unruptured intracranial aneurysm (UIA) on CTA (11%), two had CVT (3%), two had RCVS (3%) and one had cerebral ischemia (1%). We found a high percentage of vascular abnormalities. A third of these patients had a prior episode of either an aneurysm or CVT. In patients with a history of UIA or CVT performing CTA despite normal CT and LP therefore seems warranted. A prospective study to delineate indications for CTA is needed.


CT angiography; acute headache; neuroimaging; subarachnoid hemorrhage

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