The utility of head computed tomographic scanning in pediatric patients with normal neurologic examination in the emergency department

Pediatr Emerg Care. 1996 Jun;12(3):160-5. doi: 10.1097/00006565-199606000-00004.


Head injury is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality in pediatric trauma. Guidelines for obtaining computed tomographic (CT) scans in the child with mild head injury are poorly defined. This study investigated the utility of head CT scanning in the pediatric patient presenting with normal neurologic examination. All patients undergoing head CT scanning for trauma in the emergency department (ED) at a tertiary care pediatric trauma center during 1992 were identified (508). Charts were reviewed for historical and physical examination findings, CT results, and need for neurosurgical intervention. Patients were excluded if they had an abnormal neurologic examination (179), known depressed skull fracture (11), bleeding diathesis (3), age older than 18 years (1), or developmental delay (1). Included were 313 patients (median 5.5 years) who presented with clinical variables including sleepiness (38%), vomiting (34%), headache (30%), loss of consciousness (LOC) (25%), irritability (22%), amnesia (20%), and seizures (8%). An abnormal head CT was noted in 88 cases (28%); 79 (25%) were traumatic abnormalities involving the skull and/or contents. Thirteen patients (4%) had intracranial injuries (ICI); all had either a linear (10), basilar (2), or depressed (1) skull fracture noted on CT. Four patients required neurosurgery, three for epidural hematoma, and one for a complicated orbital fracture (without ICI). No clinical variables (seizure, LOC, vomiting, headache, confusion, irritability, sleepiness, amnesia) were associated with ICI (P > 0.05). In pediatric head trauma patients, with normal neurologic examinations in the ED, ICI occurs < 5% of the time and neurosurgery is needed in 1% of the cases. Commonly used clinical variables are not associated with ICI in these children.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*