Importance: Pediatric traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are a leading cause of death and disability. The Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) guidelines provide a framework for requesting head computed tomography (HCT) after pediatric head trauma (PHT); however, quantitative data are lacking regarding both TBIs found on HCT and justification of the HCT request according to the PECARN guidelines.
Objectives: To evaluate the types, frequencies, and risk factors for TBIs on HCT in children referred to emergency departments (EDs) who underwent HCT for PHT and to evaluate quality of HCT request.
Design, setting, and participants: This multicenter, retrospective cohort study included patients younger than 18 years who underwent HCT for PHT who were referred to 91 EDs during on-call hours between January 1, 2020, to May 31, 2022. Data were analyzed between July and August 2022.
Exposure: All radiological reports with pathologic findings were reviewed by 4 senior radiologists. Six hundred HCT requests filled by emergency physicians were randomly sampled to review the examination justification according to the PECARN guidelines.
Main outcomes and measures: Associations between TBIs, age, sex, and Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) were investigated using univariable χ2 and Cochrane-Armitage tests. Multivariable stepwise binary logistic regressions were used to estimate the odds ratio (ORs) for intracranial hemorrhages (ICH), any type of fracture, facial bone fracture, and skull vault fracture.
Results: Overall, 5146 children with HCT for PHT were included (median [IQR] age, 11.2 [4.7-15.7] years; 3245 of 5146 [63.1%] boys). ICHs were diagnosed in 306 of 5146 patients (5.9%) and fractures in 674 of 5146 patients (13.1%). The following variables were associated with ICH in multivariable analysis: GCS score of 8 or less (OR, 5.83; 95% CI, 1.97-14.60; P < .001), extracranial hematoma (OR, 2.54; 95% CI, 1.59-4.02; P < .001), skull base fracture (OR, 9.32; 95% CI, 5.03-16.97; P < .001), upper cervical fracture (OR, 19.21; 95% CI, 1.79-143.59; P = .006), and skull vault fracture (OR, 35.64; 95% CI, 24.04-53.83; P < .001). When neither extracranial hematoma nor fracture was found on HCT, the OR for presenting ICH was 0.034 (95% CI, 0.026-0.045; P < .001). Skull vault fractures were more frequently encountered in children younger than 2 years (multivariable OR, 6.31; 95% CI, 4.16-9.66; P < .001; reference: children ≥12 years), whereas facial bone fractures were more frequently encountered in boys older than 12 years (multivariable OR, 26.60; 95% CI, 9.72-109.96; P < .001; reference: children younger than 2 years). The justification for performing HCT did not follow the PECARN guidelines for 396 of 589 evaluable children (67.2%) for requests filled by emergency physicians.
Conclusion and relevance: In this cohort study of 5146 children who underwent HCT for PHT, knowing the odds of clinical and radiological features for ICHs and fractures could help emergency physicians and radiologists improve their image analysis and avoid missing significant injuries. The PECARN rules were not implemented in nearly two-thirds of patients.