ACR Appropriateness Criteria® Headache

J Am Coll Radiol. 2019 Nov;16(11S):S364-S377. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2019.05.030.


Headache is one of the most common human afflictions. In most cases, headaches are benign and idiopathic, and resolve spontaneously or with minor therapeutic measures. Imaging is not required for many types of headaches. However, patients presenting with headaches in the setting of "red flags" such as head trauma, cancer, immunocompromised state, pregnancy, patients 50 years or older, related to activity or position, or with a corresponding neurological deficit, may benefit from CT, MRI, or noninvasive vascular imaging to identify a treatable cause. This publication addresses the initial imaging strategies for headaches associated with the following features: severe and sudden onset, optic disc edema, "red flags," migraine or tension-type, trigeminal autonomic origin, and chronic headaches with and without new or progressive features. The American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria are evidence-based guidelines for specific clinical conditions that are reviewed annually by a multidisciplinary expert panel. The guideline development and revision include an extensive analysis of current medical literature from peer reviewed journals and the application of well-established methodologies (RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation or GRADE) to rate the appropriateness of imaging and treatment procedures for specific clinical scenarios. In those instances where evidence is lacking or equivocal, expert opinion may supplement the available evidence to recommend imaging or treatment.

Keywords: AUC; Angiogram; Appropriate Use Criteria; Appropriateness Criteria; CT; Headache; MRI; Migraine; Neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Headache / diagnostic imaging*
  • Headache / epidemiology*
  • Headache / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Radiology / standards
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Factors
  • Societies, Medical / standards
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • United States