Serious Diagnoses for Headaches after ED Discharge

Amy Z. Zhou, Jennifer R. Marin, Robert W. Hickey, Sriram Ramgopal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Headache is a common complaint among children presenting to the emergency department (ED) and can be due to serious neurologic and nonneurologic diagnoses (SNNDs). We sought to characterize the children discharged from the ED with headache found to have SNNDs at revisits. METHODS: We performed a multicenter retrospective cohort study using data from 45 pediatric hospitals from October 1, 2015, to March 31, 2019. We included pediatric patients (#18 years) discharged from the ED with a principal diagnosis of headache, excluding patients with concurrent or previous SNNDs or neurosurgeries. We identified rates and types of SNNDs diagnosed within 30 days of initial visit and compared these rates with those of control groups defined as patients with discharge diagnoses of cough, chest pain, abdominal pain, and soft tissue complaints. RESULTS: Of 121 621 included patients (57% female, median age 12.4 years, interquartile range: 8.8–15.4), 608 (0.5%, 95% confidence interval: 0.5%–0.5%) were diagnosed with SNNDs within 30 days. Most were diagnosed at the first revisit (80.8%); 37.5% were diagnosed within 7 days. The most common SNNDs were benign intracranial hypertension, cerebral edema and compression, and seizures. A greater proportion of patients with SNNDs underwent neuroimaging, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid testing compared with those without SNNDs (P, .001 for each). The proportion of SNNDs among patients diagnosed with headache (0.5%) was higher than for control cohorts (0.0%–0.1%) (P, .001 for each). CONCLUSIONS: A total 0.5% of pediatric patients discharged from the ED with headache were diagnosed with an SNND within 30 days. Further efforts to identify at-risk patients remain a challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20201647
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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