Most patients presenting with uncomplicated, nontraumatic, primary headache do not require imaging. When history, physical, or neurologic examination elicits "red flags" or critical features of the headache, then further investigation with imaging may be warranted to exclude a secondary cause. Imaging procedures may be diagnostically useful for patients with headaches that are: associated with trauma; new, worse, or abrupt onset; thunderclap; radiating to the neck; due to trigeminal autonomic cephalgia; persistent and positional; and temporal in older individuals. Pregnant patients, immunocompromised individuals, cancer patients, and patients with papilledema or systemic illnesses, including hypercoagulable disorders may benefit from imaging. Unlike most headaches, those associated with cough, exertion, or sexual activity usually require neuroimaging with MRI of the brain with and without contrast to exclude potentially underlying pathology before a primary headache syndrome is diagnosed. The ACR Appropriateness Criteria are evidence-based guidelines for specific clinical conditions that are reviewed every 2 years by a multidisciplinary expert panel. The guideline development and review include an extensive analysis of current medical literature from peer-reviewed journals and the application of a well-established consensus methodology (modified Delphi) to rate the appropriateness of imaging and treatment procedures by the panel. In those instances in which evidence is lacking or not definitive, expert opinion may be used to recommend imaging or treatment.
- Appropriateness criteria