External validation of the Ottawa subarachnoid hemorrhage clinical decision rule in patients with acute headache

M. Fernanda Bellolio, Erik P. Hess, Waqas I. Gilani, Tyler J. Vandyck, Stuart A. Ostby, Jessica A. Schwarz, Christine M. Lohse, Alejandro A. Rabinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Abstract We aim to externally validate the Ottawa subarachnoid hemorrhage (OSAH) clinical decision rule. This rule identifies patients with acute nontraumatic headache who require further investigation. We conducted a medical record review of all patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) with headache from January 2011 to November 2013. Per the OSAH rule, patients with any of the following predictors require further investigation: age 40 years or older, neck pain, stiffness or limited flexion, loss of consciousness, onset during exertion, or thunderclap. The rule was applied following the OSAH rule criteria. Patients were followed up for repeat visits within 7 days of initial presentation. Data were electronically harvested from the electronic medical record and manually abstracted from individual patient charts using a standardized data abstraction form. Calibration between trained reviewers was performed periodically. A total of 5034 ED visits with acute headache were reviewed for eligibility. There were 1521 visits that met exclusion criteria, and 3059 had headache of gradual onset or time to maximal intensity greater than or equal to 1 hour. The rule was applied to 454 patients (9.0%). There were 9 cases of subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), yielding an incidence of 2.0% (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.0%-3.9%) in the eligible cohort. The sensitivity for SAH was 100% (95% CI, 62.9%-100%); specificity, 7.6% (95% CI, 5.4%-10.6%); positive predictive value, 2.1% (95% CI 1.0%-4.2%); and negative predictive value, 100% (95% CI, 87.4%-100%). The OSAH rule was 100% sensitive for SAH in the eligible cohort. However, its low specificity and applicability to only a minority of ED patients with headache (9%) reduce its potential impact on practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number54651
Pages (from-to)244-249
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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