Table 1

Characteristics by final diagnoses of patients with acute headache presenting to the ED

CharacteristicsOverall population
N=2412 (%)
Non-SAH
N=2218 (%)
SAH
N=194 (%)
p Value
Mean (SD) age (years)44.89 (16.8)44.20 (16.9)52.73 (13.0)<0.001
Age range (years)15–9315–9315–85
CTAS*
 I–II550 (22.8)493 (22.2)57 (29.4)
 III1549 (64.2)1427 (64.3)122 (62.9)0.014
 IV–V313 (13.0)298 (13.4)15 (7.7)
Female1420 (58.9)1301 (58.7)119 (61.3)0.466
Arrival by ambulance591 (24.5)482 (21.7)109 (56.2)<0.001
Transfer from another hospital262 (10.9)229 (10.3)33 (17.0)0.004
Median (IQR) time from onset to peak (s)30 (1–300)5 (1–60)30 (1–300)
Time from onset to peak (s)
 0–1695 (28.8)621 (28.0)74 (38.1)
 2–30583 (24.2)529 (23.9)54 (27.8)<0.001
 31–300573 (23.8)529 (23.9)44 (22.7)
 >300561 (23.3)539 (24.3)22 (11.3)
Median (IQR) pain severity at peak (scale 0–10)10 (8–10)10 (8–10)10 (9–10)<0.001
Onset during exertion310 (12.9)269 (12.1)41 (21.1)<0.001
Onset during sexual activity168 (7.0)157 (7.1)11 (5.7)0.460
Headache awoke patient from sleep431 (17.9)410 (18.5)21 (10.8)0.008
Worst headache of life2037 (84.5)1850 (83.4)187 (96.4)<0.001
Loss of consciousness138 (5.7)111 (5.0)27 (13.9)<0.001
Witnessed loss of consciousness85 (3.5)70 (3.2)15 (7.7)<0.001
Complaint of neck stiffness or pain898 (37.2)746 (33.6)152 (78.4)<0.001
Vomiting721 (29.9)594 (26.8)127 (65.5)<0.001
Patient had neck stiffness with flexion or extension147 (6.1)88 (4.0)59 (30.4)<0.001
Mean (SD) HR (bpm)79.17 (15.3)79.24 (15.4)78.35 (13.4)0.384
Mean (SD) systolic BP (mm Hg)143.29 (24.1)142.20 (23.5)155.5 (27.2)<0.001
Mean (SD) diastolic BP (mm Hg)81.93 (13.7)81.54 (13.6) 86.46 (14.4)<0.001
Diagnostic procedures and disposition
 CT2412 (100)2218 (100)194 (100)
 LP1222 (50.7)1193 (53.8)29 (14.9)<0.001
 Both CT and LP1222 (50.7)1193 (53.8)29 (14.9)<0.001
 Cerebral angiography206 (8.5)117 (5.3)89 (45.9)<0.001
 Admitted to hospital273 (11.3)93 (4.2)180 (92.8)<0.001
 Died11 (0.5)0 (0)11 (5.7)<0.001
Final diagnosis
 Benign headache1348 (55.9)1348 (60.8)0<0.001
 Migraine headache506 (21.0)506 (22.8)0<0.001
 Viral illness60 (2.5)60 (2.7)00.020
 Ischaemic stroke or transient ischaemic attack45 (1.9)45 (2.0)00.045
 Postcoital headache42 (1.7)42 (1.9)00.053
 Sinusitis34 (1.4)34 (1.5)00.083
 Vasovagal syncope21 (0.9)21 (0.9)00.174
 Neck strain9 (0.4)9 (0.4)00.374
 Brain tumour8 (0.3)8 (0.4)00.402
 Hypoglycaemia2 (0.1)2 (0.1)00.676
 Intracerebral haemorrhage6 (0.2)6 (0.3)00.468
 Subdural haematoma4 (0.2)4 (0.2)00.554
 Bacterial meningitis2 (0.1)2 (0.1)00.676
  • *CTAS is a five-level scale, which categorises patients into acuity of illness with level defined as follows: I, Resuscitation; II, Emergent; III, Urgent; IV, Less Urgent; V- Non-Urgent.

  • CTAS, Canadian Triage Acuity Scale; LP, lumbar puncture; SAH, subarachnoid haemorrhage.