Computed Tomography Imaging of Geriatric Patients with Uncertain Head Trauma

J Emerg Med. 2023 Dec;65(6):e511-e516. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2023.07.009. Epub 2023 Jul 26.


Background: Although clinical decision rules exist for patients with head injuries, no tool assesses patients with unknown trauma events. Patients with uncertain trauma may have unnecessary brain imaging.

Objective: This study evaluated risk factors and outcomes of geriatric patients with uncertain head injury.

Methods: This prospective cohort study included geriatric patients with definite or uncertain head injury presenting to two emergency departments (EDs). Patients were grouped as definite or uncertain head trauma based on history and physical examination. Outcomes were intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) on head computed tomography (CT), need for neurosurgical intervention, and mortality. Risk factors assessed included gender, alcohol use, tobacco use, history of dementia, anticoagulant use, antiplatelet use, and Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score < 15.

Results: We enrolled 2905 patients with definite head trauma and 950 with uncertain head trauma. Rates of acute ICH (10.7% vs. 1.5%; odds ratio [OR] 8.02; 95% confidence interval [CI] 4.67-13.76), delayed ICH (0.7% vs. 0.1%; OR 6.58; 95% CI 4.67-13.76), and neurosurgical intervention (1.2% vs. 0.3%; OR 3.74; 95% CI 1.15-12.20) were all higher in definite vs. uncertain head injuries. There were no differences in mortality. Patients with definite trauma had higher rates of ICH with male gender (OR 1.58; 95% CI 1.24-1.99), alcohol use (OR 1.62; 95% CI 1.25-2.09), antiplatelet use (OR 1.84; 95% CI 1.46-2.31), and GCS score < 15 (OR 3.24; 95% CI 2.54-4.13). Patients with uncertain trauma had no characteristics associated with increased ICH.

Conclusions: Although ICH rates among patients with uncertain head trauma was eight times lower than those with definite head trauma, the risk of ICH is high enough to warrant CT imaging of all geriatric patients with uncertain head injury.

Keywords: Emergency medicine; Geriatrics; Head imaging; Head trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Craniocerebral Trauma* / diagnostic imaging
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages
  • Male
  • Physical Examination
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed