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New Study Says Your Child May Not Need CT Scan for Head Injury


If you have children, you may have made a trip or two to the ER after they've fallen off a bike, or taken a misdirected cleat to the head at soccer practice. Although the norm has been for the hospital to check a child's head injury with a computer tomography (CT) scan, don't be alarmed if they skip this step next time you're in the ER.

A new study from the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network says that although about half of U.S. children taken to the ER for a head injury now receive a computer tomography (CT) scan, it may be better to allow a period of observation before a child undergoes a scan.

"Only a small percentage of children with blunt head trauma really have something serious going on," Dr. Lise Nigrovic of Children's Hospital Boston told . "If you can be watched in the [emergency department] for a few hours, you may not need a CT."

As much as half of head injury cases can hold off on CT scans without compromising care, says the report, and without exposing children to ionizing radiation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following general guidelines for parents whose child has a head injury:

  • Check with your primary care clinician before taking the child to the emergency department.
  • An emergency department visit is appropriate if your child has headache, vomiting or confusion, or symptoms that worsen over time.
  • The emergency department clinician may reasonably choose to observe your child for several hours once you arrive before deciding about a head CT.
  • The change of symptoms over time is an important factor in deciding whether to obtain a head CT scan.


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