Neuroimaging of headaches in patients with normal neurological examination: protocol for a systematic review

BMJ Open. 2018 Feb 22;8(2):e020190. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020190.


Introduction: Headache disorders (HD) are among the most frequent neurological disorders seen in neurology practice. Because secondary HD are rare, patients' examination is most often unremarkable. However, the will to relieve patients' anxiety and the fear of prosecutions lead to overuse of neuroimaging thus resulting in the discovery of incidental findings (IF) or normal variants that can lead to futile or harmful procedures. Knowing the probability of identifying a potentially clinically significant lesion in patients with isolated headache could facilitate decision-making and reduce health costs. This review aims to determine the prevalence of incidental findings and normal anatomic variants (NAV) on neuroimaging studies performed in patients presenting with headache and normal neurological examination.

Method and analysis: Studies reporting neuroimaging findings in patients with headache and normal neurological examination and published before the 30 September 2017 will be identified by searching PubMed, Medline and EMBASE (Excerpta Medica Database). Relevant unpublished papers and conference proceedings will also be checked. Full texts of eligible studies will then be accessed and data extracted using a standard data extraction sheet. Studies will be assessed for quality and risk of bias. Heterogeneity of studies will be evaluated by the χ2 test on Cochrane's Q statistic. The prevalence of NAV and IF across studies and in relevant subgroups will be estimated by pooling the study-specific estimates using a random-effects meta-analysis. Visual analysis of funnel plot and Egger's test will be used to detect publication bias. The report of this systematic review will be compliant with the Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology guidelines.

Ethics and dissemination: The current study is based on published data; ethical approval is, therefore, not required. The final report of this systematic review will be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Furthermore, findings will be presented at conferences and submitted to relevant health authorities.

Trial registration number: CRD42017079714.

Keywords: general medicine (see internal medicine); neurology.

MeSH terms

  • Headache Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Neurologic Examination / methods
  • Publication Bias
  • Research Design
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic