American College of Radiology

View all recommendations from this society

Released April 4, 2012

Don’t do imaging for uncomplicated headache.

Imaging headache patients absent specific risk factors for structural disease is not likely to change management or improve outcome. Those patients with a significant likelihood of structural disease requiring immediate attention are detected by clinical screens that have been validated in many settings. Many studies and clinical practice guidelines concur. Also, incidental findings lead to additional medical procedures and expense that do not improve patient well-being.


These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American College of Radiology (ACR) initially solicited expert opinion from physician leaders with its Board of Chancellors. A working group was then formed to further identify common clinical scenarios in which imaging may be misused and should be reconsidered. Members of the group included the physician chairs or vice chairs of seven ACR commissions such as Quality and Safety, Appropriateness Criteria and Metrics. An initial list of topics was narrowed down based on the highest potential for improvement, representing a broad range of tests and the availability of strong guidelines. Members then researched specific recommendations and evidentiary statements based on their expertise. Recommendations that were too general or were well covered by other existing measures and initiatives were eliminated to identify the final five things list. ACR’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at www.acr.org.

Sources

Jordan JE, Wippold FJ II, Cornelius RS, Amin-Hanjani S, Brunberg JA, Davis PC, De La Paz RL, Dormont D, Germano I, Gray L, Mukherji SJ, Seidenwurm DJ, Sloan MA, Turski PA, Zimmerman RD, Zipfel GJ, Expert Panel on Neurologic Imaging. ACR Appropriateness Criteria® headache. [online publication]. Reston (VA): American College of Radiology (ACR);2009.8 p. http://www.acr.org/SecondaryMainMenuCategories/quality_safety/app_criteria/pdf/ExpertPanelonNeurologicImaging/HeadacheDoc6.aspx.

Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI). Diagnosis and treatment of headache. Bloomington (MN): Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI); 2011 Jan. 84 p.

Frishberg BM, Rosenberg JH, Matchar DB, et al. Evidence-Based Guidelines in the Primary Care Setting: Neuroimaging in Patients with Nonacute Headache. American Academy of Neurology. 2000. Available online: http://www.aan.com/professionals/practice/pdfs/gl0088.pdf (US Headache Consortium).

Stephen D. Silberstein. Practice parameter: Evidence-based guidelines for migraine headache (an evidence-based review): Report of the Quality. Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. 2000;55;754 Neurology. (US Headache Consortium).

Edlow JA, Panagos PD, Godwin SA, Thomas TL, Decker WW; American College of Emergency Physicians. Clinical policy: critical issues in the evaluation and management of adult patients presenting to the emergency department with acute headache. Ann Emerg Med. 2008 Oct;52(4):407-36.