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Headaches in children - When to worry

CPD Hours



Critical care and emergency nursing
Community and primary health care
Neonates and paediatrics
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Headaches in the paediatric population are challenging for all healthcare professionals and particularly so for paramedics.

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 pseudotumour cerebri, also known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH). Management involves identifying red flags on patient assessment and history and commencing medical treatment.

The following 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. The module discusses pre-hospital care for those nurses working in the primary health care environment or working as emergency first responders.

This module is aimed at any nurse working with children, be it in the hospital setting, as an emergency responder or the primary health care setting.  

Learning Objective

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 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 pre-hospital management of a child with suspected meningococcal septicaemia or head injury.

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