Headaches in Children – When to Worry


Headaches in the paediatric population are challenging for all healthcare practitioners working in a primary health care environment, such as in Aboriginal health services. Skilled assessment is required as potential causes range from benign to life threatening and management varies from basic analgesia to emergency medical interventions. Rare, but potentially life threatening causes of headaches in children include intracranial haemorrhage, meningococcal septicaemia, space occupying lesions and pseudo tumour cerebri (IIH). Management in the primary health care environment involves identifying red flags on patient assessment and history and commencing medical treatment.

This module will discuss headaches in children. It begins with an overview of causes and the clinical classifications of a headache. It will then review a focused paediatric patient assessment and highlight red flags, which may suggest a severe condition and potential for patient deterioration. Clinical scenarios will be used to consolidate learning.

This module is suitable for any clinician working in an Aboriginal health service who assesses children.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Describe potential causes of headaches in the paediatric population.
  • Identify serious and potentially life threatening conditions that may present as a headache in children.
  • Highlight the features of a focused patient assessment and history taking for a child with a headaches.
  • Identify high risk symptoms that may indicate an urgent or emergency condition in a child with a headache.
  • Understand the pathophysiology of meningococcal disease.
  • Describe the primary health care management of a child with suspected meningococcal septicaemia or head injury.

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