Serious neurological disorders in children with chronic headache

I Abu-Arafeh, S Macleod
Archives of Disease in Childhood 2005, 90 (9): 937-40

AIMS: To determine the prevalence of serious neurological disorders among children with chronic headache.

METHODS: All children presenting to a specialist headache clinic over seven years with headache as their main complaint were assessed by clinical history, physical and neurological examination, neuroimaging where indicated, and by follow up using prospective headache diaries.

RESULTS: A total of 815 children and adolescents (1.25-18.75 years of age, mean 10.8 years (SD 2.9); 432 male) were assessed. Mean duration of headache was 21.2 months (SD 21.2). Neuroimaging (brain CT or MRI) was carried out on 142 (17.5%) children. The vast majority of patients had idiopathic headache (migraine, tension, or unclassified headaches). Fifty one children (6.3%) had other chronic neurological disorders that were unrelated to the headache. The headache in three children (0.37%, 95% CI 0.08% to 1.1%) was related to active intracranial pathology which was predictable on clinical findings in two children but was unexpected until a later stage in one child (0.12%, 95% CI 0.006% to 0.68%).

CONCLUSIONS: Chronic headache in childhood is rarely due to serious intracranial pathology. Careful history and thorough clinical examination will identify most patients with serious underlying brain abnormalities. Change in headache symptomatology or personality change should lower the threshold for imaging.

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