Isolated loss of consciousness in children with minor blunt head trauma

JAMA Pediatr. 2014 Sep;168(9):837-43. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.361.


Importance: A history of loss of consciousness (LOC) is frequently a driving factor for computed tomography use in the emergency department evaluation of children with blunt head trauma. Computed tomography carries a nonnegligible risk for lethal radiation-induced malignancy. The Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) derived 2 age-specific prediction rules with 6 variables for clinically important traumatic brain injury (ciTBI), which included LOC as one of the risk factors.

Objective: To determine the risk for ciTBIs in children with isolated LOC.

Design, setting, and participants: This was a planned secondary analysis of a large prospective multicenter cohort study. The study included 42 ,412 children aged 0 to 18 years with blunt head trauma and Glasgow Coma Scale scores of 14 and 15 evaluated in 25 emergency departments from 2004-2006.

Exposure: A history of LOC after minor blunt head trauma.

Main outcomes and measures: The main outcome measures were ciTBIs (resulting in death, neurosurgery, intubation for >24 hours, or hospitalization for ≥2 nights) and a comparison of the rates of ciTBIs in children with no LOC, any LOC, and isolated LOC (ie, with no other PECARN ciTBI predictors).

Results: A total of 42 412 children were enrolled in the parent study, with 40 693 remaining in the current analysis after exclusions. Of these, LOC occurred in 15.4% (6286 children). The prevalence of ciTBI with any history of LOC was 2.5% and for no history of LOC was 0.5% (difference, 2.0%; 95% CI, 1.7-2.5). The ciTBI rate in children with isolated LOC, with no other PECARN predictors, was 0.5% (95% CI, 0.2-0.8; 13 of 2780). When comparing children who have isolated LOC with those who have LOC and other PECARN predictors, the risk ratio for ciTBI in children younger than 2 years was 0.13 (95% CI, 0.005-0.72) and for children 2 years or older was 0.10 (95% CI, 0.06-0.19).

Conclusions and relevance: Children with minor blunt head trauma presenting to the emergency department with isolated LOC are at very low risk for ciTBI and do not routinely require computed tomographic evaluation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Head Injuries, Closed / diagnostic imaging
  • Head Injuries, Closed / epidemiology
  • Head Injuries, Closed / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Unconsciousness / complications*
  • Unconsciousness / epidemiology