Objectives: To retrospectively investigate the prevalence and characteristics of intracranial vascular lesions in patients with acute severe headache with the use of CT angiography (CTA).
Methods: We systematically searched for neurologically intact patients with acute severe headache and normal unenhanced head CT. The study group consisted of 512 patients; 251 male; mean age 46.2 ± 12.4 years. All patients underwent CTA between 1 day and 2 months after the headache attack. CTA images were interpreted by two experienced neuroradiologists for the presence of vascular lesions.
Results: Thirty-four (6.6 %) of the 512 patients had intracranial vascular lesions on CTA, including 33 aneurysms (2 patients had 2 aneurysms each), 2 moyamoya disease and 1 arterial dissection. No gender- or age-related differences were found. Aneurysms arose most commonly on the internal carotid artery (n = 12), followed by the anterior communicating artery (n = 7), and the middle cerebral artery (n = 7). Maximal diameters ranged from 2.0 to 13.1 mm (mean, 3.9 ± 2.6 mm).
Conclusions: CTA is a feasible tool for diagnosing intracranial vascular lesions in patients with acute severe headache. The prevalence of vascular lesions in our series was 6.6 %, which is higher than that predicted in the general population.
Key points: • Unruptured cerebral aneurysms may be a cause of acute severe headache • CTA assesses intracranial vascular lesions in patients with acute severe headache • The prevalence of vascular lesions in our series of patients was 6.6 %