Objective: To determine whether clinical parameters and neurologic scores can be used to guide the decision to obtain computed tomography (CT) head scans for ethanol- intoxicated patients with presumed-minor head injuries.
Methods: In a prospective cohort analysis, 107 consecutive adult patients who presented to a county emergency department (ED) with serum ethanol levels >80 mg/dL and minor head trauma were studied. Commonly used clinical variables were determined for each patient. Each patient also underwent an abbreviated neurologic scoring examination and a Glasgow coma scale (GCS) score evaluation at the time of presentation and one hour later, after which a cranial CT scan was done. For purposes of analysis, patients with and patients without intracerebral injuries visible on CT scans of the head were compared.
Results: Nine of 107 patients (8.4%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.9-15.4%) had CT scans that were positive for intracerebral injury. Two patients (1.9%; 95% CI = 0.2-6.6%) needed craniotomy. Five patients had hemotympanum and two patients had bilateral periorbital ecchymosis, but CT scans were negative for intracerebral injury in these patients. There was no statistically significant difference between the patients with and without CT scan abnormalities, based on the clinical variables, the GCS scores, or the abbreviated neurologic scoring examinations at presentation or at one hour.
Conclusion: The prevalence of intracerebral injury in CT scans of ethanol-intoxicated patients with minor head injuries was 8.4%. Commonly used clinical parameters and neurologic scores at presentation and one hour later were unable to predict which patients would have intracerebral injuries and evidenced by CT scans. Our low (1.9%) neurosurgical intervention rate supports the need to develop a selective approach to CT scanning in this population.