The use of ondansetron for nausea and vomiting after head injury and its effect on return rates from the pediatric ED

Am J Emerg Med. 2013 Jan;31(1):166-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2012.07.002. Epub 2012 Sep 20.


Background: The use of ondansetron in children with vomiting after a head injury has not been well studied. Concern about masking serious injury is a potential barrier to its use.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of ondansetron in children with head injury and symptoms of vomiting in the pediatric emergency department (PED) and its effect on return rates and masking of more serious injuries.

Design/methods: Visits to 2 PEDs from 2003 to 2010 with a diagnosis of head injury were evaluated retrospectively. Patients discharged home after a head computed tomography (CT) are the primary cohort for the study. A logistic regression model was used to analyze ondansetron's effects on the likelihood of return to the PED within 72 hours for persistent symptoms. A secondary analysis was performed on patients with a diagnoses of head injury who did not receive a head CT and were discharged.

Results: A total of 6311 patients had a diagnosis of head injury, had a head CT performed, and were discharged from the PED. The use of ondansetron increased significantly from 3.7% in 2003 to 22% in 2010 (P < .001). After controlling for demographic/acuity differences, receiving ondansetron in the PED was associated with a lower likelihood of returning within 72 hours (0.49, 95% confidence interval [0.26-0.92]). In patients with head injury who did not have a head CT performed and were sent home, the use of ondansetron in the PED was not associated with an increased risk of missed diagnoses.

Conclusion: Ondansetron use in children with a CT scan who are dispositioned home is relatively safe, does not appear to mask any significant conditions, and significantly reduces return visits to the PED.

MeSH terms

  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Nausea / drug therapy*
  • Nausea / etiology
  • Ondansetron / therapeutic use*
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Vomiting / drug therapy*
  • Vomiting / etiology


  • Antiemetics
  • Ondansetron