A pilot survey of decisions by acute medicine staff after thunderclap headache

B Dobb, J Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: Traditionally, neurologically pristine patients with a thunderclap headache are investigated with a non-contrast computed tomography (CT) brain scan, which if negative is followed by a lumbar puncture (LP) to exclude important secondary causes, particularly subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH). However, misdiagnosis of such patients is still a cause of significant human and financial cost and a regular reason for medical litigation. This study explores the approach of emergency medicine and acute medicine clinicians to the investigation of a patient with thunderclap headache.

METHODS: Clinicians were invited to complete an online survey based on a clinical vignette of a 45-year-old man presenting with a thunderclap headache who had a pristine neurological examination.

RESULTS: A total of 160 clinicians responded. The majority (89%) elected to perform a non-contrast CT brain as their first investigation, though five clinicians discharged the patient without investigation. If the CT was negative, only 84% would then proceed to LP, but 20% would undertake this investigation before 12 hours from headache onset.

CONCLUSIONS: Most clinicians investigate neurologically intact patients with thunderclap headache following a CT/LP strategy, but deviations from recommended practice are common.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-214
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Brain
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid
  • Data Collection
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Headache Disorders, Primary
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Aneurysm
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician's Practice Patterns
  • Spinal Puncture
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Survey
  • Thunderclap Headache


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