Diagnosis of subarachnoid hemorrhage in the emergency department

Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2003 Feb;21(1):73-87. doi: 10.1016/s0733-8627(02)00081-0.


To decide which patients with headache ought to be evaluated for SAH, physicians should focus on specific elements of the patient history, such as onset, severity, and quality of the headache and associated symptoms. These questions should be asked and the responses documented for every patient with a headache. The physical examination should be compulsive with regard to vital signs, HEENT. and neurologic signs. Then, the physician should form an explicit differential diagnosis and have reasons for diagnosing migraine, tension, or sinus headache and other benign causes. If there is no clear-cut alternative hypothesis, the patient should be evaluated by CT and LP (if the CT is negative, equivocal, or technically inadequate). Physicians should understand the limitations of this diagnostic algorithm. In addition, the CSF should be carefully analyzed, including measuring the opening pressure. In patients whose CT scans and CSF analyses are normal, further testing is rarely indicated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Headache / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Spinal Puncture
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / diagnosis*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed