We investigated how patient head characteristics, as well as the choice of x-ray technique factors, affect lesion contrast and noise values in computed tomography (CT) images. Head sizes and mean Hounsfield unit (HU) values were obtained from head CT images for five classes of patients ranging from the newborn to adults. X-ray spectra with tube voltages ranging from 80 to 140 kV were used to compute the average photon energy, and energy fluence, transmitted through the heads of patients of varying size. Image contrast, and the corresponding contrast to noise ratios (CNRs), were determined for lesions of fat, muscle, and iodine relative to a uniform water background. Maintaining a constant image CNR for each lesion, the patient energy imparted was also computed to identify the x-ray tube voltage that minimized the radiation dose. For adults, increasing the tube voltage from 80 to 140 kV changed the iodine HU from 2.62 x 10(5) to 1.27 x 10(5), the fat HU from -138 to -108, and the muscle HU from 37.1 to 33.0. Increasing the x-ray tube voltage from 80 to 140 kV increased the percentage energy fluence transmission by up to a factor of 2. For a fixed x-ray tube voltage, the percentage transmitted energy fluence in adults was more than a factor of 4 lower than for newborns. For adults, increasing the x-ray tube voltage from 80 to 140 kV improved the CNR for muscle lesions by 130%, for fat lesions by a factor of 2, and for iodine lesions by 25%. As the size of the patient increased from newborn to adults, lesion CNR was reduced by about a factor of 2. The mAs value can be reduced by 80% when scanning newborns while maintaining the same lesion CNR as for adults. Maintaining the CNR of an iodine lesion at a constant level, use of 140 kV increases the energy imparted to an adult patient by nearly a factor of 3.5 in comparison to 80 kV. For fat and muscle lesions, raising the x-ray tube voltage from 80 to 140 kV at a constant CNR increased the patient dose by 37% and 7%, respectively. Our two key findings are that for head CT examinations performed at a constant CNR, the mAs can be substantially reduced when scanning infants, and that use of the lowest x-ray tube voltage will generally reduce patient doses.