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Visits to emergency departments for headache pain in children on the rise

Staff Writer |
There is a growing body of evidence that pediatric emergency departments are seeing a steady increase in the number of children presenting with headaches.

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Researchers from the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC used data from the electronic medical record to analyze their hospital's emergency department visits for headache pain in children ages 4 to 20 years, from 2007 to 2014.

They then randomly selected 50 headache visits per year and examined patient data making sure to include variables such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, chief complaint, head injury within 48 hours, history of concussion, and past medical history.

Between 2007 and 2014 at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, pediatric emergency department visits for headaches doubled from 2 percent to more than 4 percent, said primary study author Michelle Perry, MD, pediatric resident at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

During this same time period, the admission rate for children with headache more than doubled from 10 percent of headache visits in 2007 to 24 percent in 2014. Females were more likely to be admitted for headache pain than males.

And while visits increased, the researchers noted that the use of computed tomography (CT) scans has decreased. "Overall, we are performing fewer computed tomography scans, which spares our children from receiving radiation exposure," says Dr. Regina Toto, study co-author and pediatric chief resident at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

"At the same time, we are providing more medications to children with headaches than we have in the past."

Drs. Perry and Toto commented that their results confirm a significantly increased burden on both the health care system and patients: "it is not uncommon to see patients and parents that have missed significant amounts of school or work because of chronic headaches."


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