According to a new University of Michigan Medical School Study, 12% of patients presenting with headache to a doctor are given scans. This is happening, despite guidelines warning doctors against using brain scans for routine headache and migraine cases.

At times, headaches can be a symptom of a more serious illness, such as a brain tumor, aneurysm, or arteriovenous malformation. Doctors may order a CT scan or an MRI to put their patients’ minds at ease, or to protect themselves legally if their patient requests a scan.

However, prior research has shown that only 1 – 3% of brain scans of headache patients find a malignant growth or problem with blood vessels in the brain.

“There’s solid research showing that the number of times you find serious issues on these scans in headache patients is about the same as that for a randomly chosen group of non-headache patients,” says Dr. Brian Callaghan, lead author. The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Callaghan adds, “And a lot of the things we find on such scans aren’t necessarily something we will do something about.”

Callaghan suggests the rise in scans may be driven by patients putting pressure on doctors. He recommends better education for the public on headache, and the recommended applications of brain scans. Callaghan and his team also suggest that redesigning insurance plans to require patients to pay part of the cost for the scan may discourage unnecessary use of this technology.

As well as the estimated $1 billion a year in health costs – which does not include the cost of follow-up tests – there are other adverse effects for patients having unnecessary scans. CT imaging can also carry a risk of side effects, due to the radiation exposure from the scan…… Medical News Today 3//18/14

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