Use of a complete neurological examination to screen for significant intracranial abnormalities in minor head injury

Am J Emerg Med. 2000 Mar;18(2):159-63. doi: 10.1016/s0735-6757(00)90009-3.


Indications for head computed tomography (CT) scans are unclear in patients with nonpenetrating head injury and Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores of 15. We performed a prospective study to determine if significant intracranial injury could be excluded in patients with GCS-15 and a normal complete neurological examination. A prospective trial of clinically sober adult patients with GCS = 15 on emergency department (ED) presentation after closed head injury with loss of consciousness or amnesia was conducted from May 1996 through April 1997. All subjects underwent a standardized neurological examination including mental status evaluation, and assessment of motor, sensory, cerebellar and reflex function before CT scan. During the study period, 58 patients met inclusion criteria. Fifty-five patients (95%) had normal CT scans and 23 (42%) had focal neurological abnormalities. Three patients (5%) had CT scan findings of acute intracranial injury, two of whom had normal neurological examinations. One patient had an acute subdural hematoma requiring emergent surgical decompression; the other had both an epidural hematoma and pneumocephalus that did not require surgery. Significant brain injury and need for CT scanning cannot be excluded in patients with minor head injury despite a GCS = 15 and normal complete neurological examination on presentation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Head Injuries, Closed / complications
  • Head Injuries, Closed / diagnosis*
  • Hematoma, Epidural, Cranial / etiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural / etiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurologic Examination / methods*
  • Neurologic Examination / standards
  • Patient Selection*
  • Pneumocephalus / etiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*