Background: CT imaging of head-injured children has risks of radiation-induced malignancy. Our aim was to identify children at very low risk of clinically-important traumatic brain injuries (ciTBI) for whom CT might be unnecessary.
Methods: We enrolled patients younger than 18 years presenting within 24 h of head trauma with Glasgow Coma Scale scores of 14-15 in 25 North American emergency departments. We derived and validated age-specific prediction rules for ciTBI (death from traumatic brain injury, neurosurgery, intubation >24 h, or hospital admission >or=2 nights).
Findings: We enrolled and analysed 42 412 children (derivation and validation populations: 8502 and 2216 younger than 2 years, and 25 283 and 6411 aged 2 years and older). We obtained CT scans on 14 969 (35.3%); ciTBIs occurred in 376 (0.9%), and 60 (0.1%) underwent neurosurgery. In the validation population, the prediction rule for children younger than 2 years (normal mental status, no scalp haematoma except frontal, no loss of consciousness or loss of consciousness for less than 5 s, non-severe injury mechanism, no palpable skull fracture, and acting normally according to the parents) had a negative predictive value for ciTBI of 1176/1176 (100.0%, 95% CI 99.7-100 0) and sensitivity of 25/25 (100%, 86.3-100.0). 167 (24.1%) of 694 CT-imaged patients younger than 2 years were in this low-risk group. The prediction rule for children aged 2 years and older (normal mental status, no loss of consciousness, no vomiting, non-severe injury mechanism, no signs of basilar skull fracture, and no severe headache) had a negative predictive value of 3798/3800 (99.95%, 99.81-99.99) and sensitivity of 61/63 (96.8%, 89.0-99.6). 446 (20.1%) of 2223 CT-imaged patients aged 2 years and older were in this low-risk group. Neither rule missed neurosurgery in validation populations.
Interpretation: These validated prediction rules identified children at very low risk of ciTBIs for whom CT can routinely be obviated.
Funding: The Emergency Medical Services for Children Programme of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau Research Programme, Health Resources and Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services.