"Benign" imaging abnormalities in children and adolescents with headache

Headache. 2006 Mar;46(3):387-98. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00371.x.


Objective: To study the frequency of "benign" abnormalities on brain imaging in children with headache, compare it with the frequency of imaging findings that dictate a change in patient management, and determine the association of benign findings with headache.

Methods: A database of 681 headache patients from the pediatric outpatient neurology department over 2 years was reviewed. Patients with benign imaging abnormalities were compared to those with nonbenign findings. Benign abnormalities were defined as those that did not result in a change in patient management. Using literature review, we discuss the benign findings and their possible association with headache.

Results: Two-hundred and forty-one patients (35.4%) had imaging at our facility. Two-hundred and eighteen had brain magnetic resonance imaging and 23 had brain computed tomography (CT) only. Twenty-two patients had CT of the sinuses in addition to brain imaging. Forty-six (19.1%) were found to have 50 benign abnormalities including 13 sinus disease, 11 Chiari I malformations, 7 nonspecific white matter abnormalities, 5 venous angiomas, 5 arachnoid cysts, 4 enlarged Virchow-Robin spaces, 2 pineal cysts, 1 mega cisterna magna, 1 fenestration of the proximal basilar artery, and 1 periventricular leukomalacia. Twenty-three patients (9.5%) had findings requiring a change in management. These included 5 sinus disease, 4 tumors, 4 old infarcts, 3 Chiari I, 2 moyamoya, 1 intracranial vascular stenosis, 1 internal jugular vein occlusion, 1 arteriovenous malformation, 1 demyelinating disease, and 1 intracerebral hemorrhage. When excluding sinusitis, which was evident clinically prior to imaging, 3 patients had absence of abnormal neurologic symptoms and signs and imaging findings that resulted in a change in management.

Conclusions: Approximately 20% of pediatric headache patients with brain imaging have benign abnormalities that do not result in a change in headache management. Imaging findings that require a change in management are rare in patients with an absence of abnormal neurologic symptoms and signs, occurring in 1.2% of patients imaged in this study.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / complications
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / diagnosis
  • Brain Diseases / complications
  • Brain Diseases / diagnosis
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Headache / diagnosis*
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Paranasal Sinus Diseases / complications
  • Paranasal Sinus Diseases / diagnosis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed