Objective: Considerable controversy surrounds the appropriate evaluation of children with mild alterations in consciousness after closed head trauma (Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score of 13-14). The objective of the current study was to determine the incidence of intracranial lesions in pediatric patients with a field GCS score of 13 or 14 after closed head injuries.
Methods: The current study is a population-based, multicenter prospective study of all patients to whom emergency medical services responded during a 12-month period. The setting was urban Los Angeles County, encompassing a patient population of 2.3 million children, 13 designated trauma centers, and 94 receiving hospitals.
Results: In the pediatric age group (<15 yr old), 8488 patients were transported by emergency medical services for injuries. Of these, 209 had a documented field GCS score of 13 or 14. One hundred fifty-seven patients were taken to trauma centers, and 135 (86%) underwent computed tomography. Forty-three patients (27.4%) had abnormal results on computed tomographic scans, 30 (19.1%) had an intracranial hemorrhage, and 5 required an operative neurosurgical procedure for hematoma evacuation. Positive and negative predictive values of deteriorating mental status (0.500 and 0.844, respectively), loss of consciousness (0.173 and 0.809), cranial fracture (0.483 and 0.875, and extracranial injuries (0.205 and 0.814) were poor predictors of intracranial hemorrhage.
Conclusion: Pediatric patients who have mild alterations in consciousness in the field have a significant incidence of intracranial injury. The great majority of these patients will not require operative intervention, but the implications of missing these hemorrhages can be severe for this subgroup of head-injured patients. Because clinical criteria and cranial x-rays are poor predictors of intracranial hemorrhage, it is recommended that all children with a GCS score of 13 or 14 routinely undergo screening via non-contrast-enhanced computed tomography.