Intended for healthcare professionals


Commentary: Controversies in SIGN guidance on diagnosing and managing headache in adults

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 20 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2445
  1. Giles Elrington, consultant neurologist
  1. 1Barts and The London NHS Trust, London E1 1BB
  1. elrington{at}

    A discussion of headache centres on two largely independent areas: diagnosis of possible serious cause (usually none is found), and pain management (typically less, not more medication is needed). The newly published guideline from the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN)1 uses the familiar split of primary and secondary headache—that is, benign and serious headache.

    Secondary headache

    It is unusual for headache to be the sole symptom of brain tumour.1 The guideline omits demographics: the approximate risk of brain tumour or other serious cause for headache is 1:1000 for headache presenting in primary care, 1:100 for headache presenting in secondary care (outpatients), and 1:10 for headache presenting in accident and emergency departments.


    The guideline lists familiar “red flag” indications.1 Reassurance from a scan is supported by a single, unblinded study showing benefit at three months but not at one year.2 The guideline discusses risks of imaging, not confined to computed tomography ionising radiation. Incidental …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription