Introduction: Headache at stroke onset occurs in up to a quarter of adults and is associated with younger age, female gender, right hemisphere and cerebellar infarcts. Little is known about headache at stroke onset in children.
Methods: Children (29 days-18 years) with clinical and radiographic confirmation of arterial ischemic stroke were prospectively enrolled in the International Pediatric Stroke Study from 2003-2014. Details regarding demographics, stroke presentation and infarct location were obtained from the multi-center, pediatric stroke registry. Headache at stroke presentation was classified and annotated in the registry by the individual site investigators as present, absent or unclear.
Results: We analyzed 2103 children. Half of all subjects ≥ 6 yo reported headache at stroke onset (N=509/1047, 49%; Figure). Headache was less prevalent in children < 6 yo (N=112/1056, 11%; p<0.001), though headache presentation was more commonly classified as unclear (10% vs 32%; p<0.001). In children ≥ 6 yo, headache was significantly associated with papilledema (p = 0.03) and vertigo (p = 0.01), but not with hemiparesis (p = 0.11), visual field deficit (p = 0.90), aphasia (p = 0.35), dysarthria (p = 0.44), or ataxia (p = 0.50). Headache was more common in posterior than anterior circulation infarcts (p<0.001). There was a significant association between headache and right or bilateral hemisphere infarcts (p = 0.04) but not with gender (p = 0.76).
Conclusion: Headache is more prevalent in children than adults at stroke ictus and shares similar associations, including infarcts involving the posterior circulation and right hemisphere. Headache may be under-reported in young infants and children due to pre-verbal stages of development. These findings have implications for early identification and treatment of pediatric stroke and warrant further investigation in prospective studies to distinguish stroke from more common benign mimics, including migraine.