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CJEM. 2015 Mar;17(2):148-53. doi: 10.2310/8000.2014.141409.

Investigating the necessity of computed tomographic scans in children with headaches: a retrospective review.

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1Department of Pediatric Neurology,Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.



Headaches are a common problem in the pediatric population. In 2002, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) developed guidelines on neuroimaging for patients presenting with headache. Our objective was to determine the frequency of computed tomographic (CT) scanning ordered by a range of medical practitioners for pediatric patients presenting with primary headache.


A retrospective chart review was conducted at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), a tertiary care centre in Ontario. One hundred fifty-one records of patients referred to the outpatient neurology clinic at CHEO with ''headache'' or ''migraine'' as the primary complaint from 2004 to 2009 were randomly selected. Ninety-nine patients with normal neurologic examinations were ultimately included.


Thirty-four patients (34%; 95% CI 25-45) had undergone CT scanning. None of the 34 CT scans (0%; 95% CI 0-10) showed significant findings, and none changed the headache diagnosis or management. Eleven (32%) of the CT scans were ordered by CHEO neurologists, 15 (44%) by community physicians, and 8 (24%) by CHEO emergency physicians.


A high proportion of children presenting with primary headaches and a normal neurologic examination undergo CT scanning, despite well-established AAN guidelines regarding neuroimaging. Most of these CT scans do not appear to alter diagnosis and management. A variety of non-evidencebased factors may be encouraging physicians to overinvestigate this population and, as a result, increasing the risk of adverse events due to radiation exposure. Implementing initiatives at a site-based level that promote the use of established guidelines before performing CT scanning in this population may be beneficial.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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