The utility of head computed tomography after minimal head injury

J Trauma. 1999 Feb;46(2):268-70. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199902000-00012.


Objective: To determine if patients who present with a history of loss of consciousness who are neurologically intact (minimal head injury) should be managed with head computed tomography (CT), observation, or both.

Methods: We prospectively studied patients who presented to our urban Level I trauma center with a history of loss of consciousness after blunt trauma and a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 15. All patients underwent CT of the head and were subsequently admitted for 24 hours of observation.

Results: A total of 1,170 patients with minimal head injury were studied during a 35-month period. All patients had Glasgow Coma Scale scores of 15 on arrival and had a history of either loss of consciousness or amnesia to the event. Two hundred forty-seven patients (21.1%) were intoxicated with drugs or alcohol on admission; 39 patients (3.3%) had abnormalities detected by CT, including 18 intracranial bleeds; 21 patients (1.8%) had changes in therapy as a direct result of their CT results, including 4 operative procedures. No patient with negative CT results deteriorated during the subsequent observation period.

Conclusion: CT is a useful test in patients with minimal head injury because it may lead to a change in therapy in a small but significant number of patients. Subsequent hospital observation adds nothing to the CT results and is not necessary in patients with isolated minimal head injury.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Amnesia / etiology*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / classification
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Patient Selection
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / standards*
  • Unconsciousness / etiology*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / classification
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / complications
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*