The Use of Rapid Sequence Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain as a Screening Tool for the Detection of Gross Intracranial Pathology in Children Presenting to the Emergency Department With a Chief Complaint of Persistent or Recurrent Headaches

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2021 Oct 1;37(10):e660-e663. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000002089.


Objective: The purpose of the study, was to assess the utility of rapid sequence brain magnetic resonance imaging (RS-MRI), as a screening tool to detect gross intracranial pathology in children that present to the emergency department, with a chief complaint of persistent or recurrent headaches. Rapid sequence MRI of the brain is a radiation-free technique that is used to evaluate ventricular size in children with shunted hydrocephalus, who present to the emergency department with symptomatology consistent with shunt malfunction.

Methods: The study evaluated RS-MRI radiographic findings of 105 children that presented to a busy tertiary care pediatric emergency/trauma center between May 1, 2013, and May 31, 2015. The inclusion criteria for the study are as follows: (1) patient's age up to 12 years, (2) patient history of persistent or recurrent headaches, (3) no history of recent specialized intracranial imaging studies. The exclusion criteria are as follows: (1) a history of recent head injury or trauma, (2) known intracranial pathology, (3) clinical findings consistent with intracranial pathology, (4) patients that required intraprocedural sedation. A detailed explanation was given to the patient's parents/guardian, specifying that this was a "screening test" for detection of gross intracranial abnormalities and not a complete radiological evaluation that would rule out all pathology. Appropriate informed consent was obtained by the attending emergency medicine specialist, and was documented in the patient's medical record.

Results: A total of 105 RS-MRI examinations were performed with an average imaging time of 75 seconds. None of the children required intraprocedural sedation, and there were no failed examinations. One patient was excluded from the study due to a pilocytic astrocytoma (not disclosed initially). There were 81 (77%) of 105 normal studies and 24 (23%) of 105 abnormal studies. One patient returned to the emergency department 2 times and was enrolled twice during the 2-year study. Of the 24 abnormal studies, 18 (75%) of 24 cases were diagnosed with sinusitis, and 1 (4.1%) of 24 cases was diagnosed with an abnormal brain mass with mild hydrocephalus due to obstruction of the caudal aspect of the fourth ventricle.

Conclusions: Rapid sequence MRI is a radiation-free useful alternative to computer tomography of the brain, when used as a screening tool for children with persistent or recurrent headaches presenting to the emergency department. This rapid imaging modality was particularly useful in identifying children with sinus disease, and contributed significantly to patient/family satisfaction with the care they receive during the emergency department visit. Additionally, RS-MRI screening was successful in detecting a serious neurosurgical emergency in one child with a cerebellar mass causing increased intracranial pressure. Further studies with large sample size are needed to corroborate our findings.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Headache* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed