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Headaches can be a challenging diagnosis in children

Child with headache

A recent study from researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh found the number of headache-related emergency room visits and hospital admissions has been on the rise nationwide.

Howard Chang, MD, medical director of the ER at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, says the staff emergency rooms at Via Christi have seen the opposite trend.

“Although our overall patient volume has been on the rise, we haven’t seen many pediatric patients with headaches,” he says. “If we do, they usually aren't ill enough to require admission to the hospital.”

The Via Christi ER reviewed data between October 2014 and present. From the ages of newborn to 20 years old, Dr. Chang says only 2 to 3 percent of patients seen in the ER came in because of a headache.

When should you take your child to the ER?

If your child complains of a headache, it could be hard to know if the root cause is something serious.

“A headache is a very non-descript symptom,” says Dr. Chang. “From the flu to stubbing your toe too hard — almost anything can cause a headache.”

Dr. Chang offers some tips to know if your child needs to be seen in the ER because of a headache:

  • If your child is under the age of 3
  • If it is acute or sudden-onset
  • If your child experiences neurologic issues with the headache — for example, if their legs or arms not working the way they should or if they are tingling
  • If the headache is accompanied by a fever
  • If your child has a ventriculoperitoneal shunt or has had recent brain surgery