Serial headache drawings by children with migraine: Correlation with clinical headache status

Carl E. Stafstrom, Shira R. Goldenholz, Douglas A. Dulli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Children's artistic self-depictions of headache provide valuable insights into their experience of pain and aid in the diagnostic differentiation of headache types. In a previous study, we compared the clinical diagnosis (gold standard) and artistic diagnosis of headaches in 226 children. In approximately 90% of cases, the drawing predicted the clinical diagnosis of migraine versus nonmigraine headache correctly. In the present study, we explored whether headache drawings correlate with clinical improvement after treatment in children with migraine headaches followed longitudinally. Children seen in the Pediatric Neurology Clinic with the chief complaint of headache were asked to draw a picture of what their headache feels like. On subsequent clinic visits, children with the clinical diagnosis of migraine were asked to draw another picture depicting their current headache. The two drawings were compared to assess whether there was improvement; this "artistic response" was then correlated with the child's clinical status (ie, whether the headaches were improved clinically). One hundred eleven children (66 girls, 45 boys) participated in the study, with a mean interval of 5.3 ± 2.3 (standard error of the mean) months between the first and second visits. The mean age at the first visit was 11.6 ± 3.1 years. The raters agreed that serial drawings were both improved or both not improved in 99 of the 111 cases (89%; interrater reliability kappa score of 0.767). Fifty-three children had improvements in their headaches and drawings, 3 children had an improved drawing but no clinical headache improvement, 32 children had no improvement in either their drawing or clinical headaches, and 11 children had improved headaches but no improvement in their drawing. The sensitivity of the drawings for clinical improvement was 0.83, and the specificity was 0.91. The predictive value of an improved headache drawing for an improved clinical response was 0.946. There was no correlation between specific treatment modality and artistic response. We concluded that children's headache drawings are a useful adjunct for the diagnosis of headache type and provide valuable insights into their experience of pain. The present data show that headache drawings can be used longitudinally to provide additional information about the clinical course. The technique is simple, inexpensive, and enjoyable for children and can be applied in a variety of clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)809-813
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of child neurology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Neurology


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