Background: There is much controversy about the use of computed tomography (CT) for patients with minor head injury. We aimed to develop a highly sensitive clinical decision rule for use of CT in patients with minor head injuries.
Methods: We carried out this prospective cohort study in the emergency departments of ten large Canadian hospitals and included consecutive adults who presented with a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of 13-15 after head injury. We did standardised clinical assessments before the CT scan. The main outcome measures were need for neurological intervention and clinically important brain injury on CT.
Findings: The 3121 patients had the following characteristics: mean age 38.7 years); GCS scores of 13 (3.5%), 14 (16.7%), 15 (79.8%); 8% had clinically important brain injury; and 1% required neurological intervention. We derived a CT head rule which consists of five high-risk factors (failure to reach GCS of 15 within 2 h, suspected open skull fracture, any sign of basal skull fracture, vomiting >2 episodes, or age >65 years) and two additional medium-risk factors (amnesia before impact >30 min and dangerous mechanism of injury). The high-risk factors were 100% sensitive (95% CI 92-100%) for predicting need for neurological intervention, and would require only 32% of patients to undergo CT. The medium-risk factors were 98.4% sensitive (95% CI 96-99%) and 49.6% specific for predicting clinically important brain injury, and would require only 54% of patients to undergo CT.
Interpretation: We have developed the Canadian CT Head Rule, a highly sensitive decision rule for use of CT. This rule has the potential to significantly standardise and improve the emergency management of patients with minor head injury.