Pediatric headache and neuroimaging: experience of two tertiary centers

Childs Nerv Syst. 2020 Jan;36(1):173-177. doi: 10.1007/s00381-019-04411-w. Epub 2019 Nov 6.


Introduction: Headache is a frequent complaint in children and adolescents. Decision-making for neuroimaging should take into account the cost and the need for sedation in young children.

Aim: To evaluate the yield of MRI in pediatric headache patients seen in two large tertiary hospitals.

Methods: Data were retrospectively collected from patient records (n = 613) and neuroimaging reports. Headache was classified according to International Headache Society guidelines.

Results: There were 346 children with imaging studies (MRI n = 281, CT n = 65). Of patients who had at least one MRI study, 29% demonstrated an abnormal finding. Findings altering the management were obtained in 21 (7%) patients: the majority (n = 17, 80%) had headache for less than 3 months. On the other hand, four patients with headache longer than 3 months (19%) and 12 patients with normal neurological examination (57%) had significant MRI results affecting management. None of the children in whom the diagnosis of migraine could be made on clinical grounds (n = 40) had a significant MRI finding.

Conclusion: Neuroimaging should be performed selectively in children with headache seen in pediatric neurology clinics, especially in headache of short duration (< 3 months) and features atypical for migraine. A normal neurological examination should not reassure the clinician.

Keywords: Childhood; Headache; MRI; Migraine; Neuroimaging; Pediatric.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Headache* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Retrospective Studies