Pediatric head injuries: can clinical factors reliably predict an abnormality on computed tomography?

Ann Emerg Med. 1993 Oct;22(10):1535-40. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(05)81254-5.


Study objective: To assess clinical features that might reliably predict the need for computed tomography (CT) imaging in pediatric head trauma. DESIGN/SETTING/TYPE OF PARTICIPANT: Prospective cohort of 324 head CT scans performed on 322 consecutive trauma patients at an urban children's hospital.

Results: Sixty-two percent of patients were male. The mean age was 7.1 years (10 days to 20.6 years); half were less than 5 years of age. The two most frequent mechanisms of injury were falls (32%) and motor vehicle accidents (25%). Abnormalities were detected in 74 scans. Intracranial injuries were apparent in 39 patients (12%); 16 had a concomitant fracture. An isolated cranial abnormality was observed on 35 scans (11%). Loss of consciousness, amnesia for the event, a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) of less than 15, and the presence of a neurologic deficit were more common in children with intracranial injury (P < .05). Vomiting, seizures, and headache were not discriminating clinical features. No single characteristic consistently identified the children with an intracranial injury. Of the 195 children who were neurologically intact (GCS, 15) at the time of presentation, 11 (5%) had evidence of intracranial pathology on CT scan.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates a poor correlation between the clinical symptoms of significant traumatic brain injury and findings on CT.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Injuries / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*