Background: In patients with thunderclap headache, reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS) should be considered as a differential diagnosis. However, RCVS diagnosis in the emergency department (ED) remains challenging. This study described the clinical features of RCVS, determined the factors related to RCVS diagnosis, and suggested treatment strategies for its management.
Methods: We retrospectively identified eight patients diagnosed with RCVS and reviewed their medical records. From January 2010 to March 2019, eight patients with RCVS (ages 18-69 years, 5 females) were identified.
Results: The median duration from the ED visit to RCVS diagnosis was 6 days (range, 1-11 days). Of the eight patients, seven were middle-aged, six had apparent triggers, six had subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), five had high systolic blood pressure, and none had any specific abnormality observed upon physical examination. At the ED visit, RCVS was diagnosed in only one patient with a history of RCVS. In other patients, SAH was diagnosed in two patients, and primary headache was diagnosed in four patients with negative computed tomography (CT) findings. Based on the follow-up imaging, seven of eight patients with convexal SAH were diagnosed as having RCVS (as the cause of SAH) using angiography (e.g., magnetic resonance angiography).
Conclusions: RCVS with negative CT findings at the ED visit was likely to be misdiagnosed as primary headache. In patients with thunderclap headache and negative CT findings, physicians should consider RCVS as a differential diagnosis, inform patients of the risk of RCVS and the likelihood of a negative image evaluation early in the course of the disease, and carry out follow-up imaging within 2-weeks of the visit.