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Children's Health

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As Kids' CT Scans Rise, So Do Radiation Worries

More Kids Getting More Scans at ERs, but Few See Pediatric Radiologists

More Kids Getting CT Scans continued...

The most common reasons for CT scans of children were head injury, headache, and abdominal pain. Over the last four years of the study:

  • 20% to 34% of child ER visits for head injury resulted in a CT scan.
  • 20% to 28% of child ER visits for headache resulted in a CT scan.
  • 15% to 21% of child ER visits for abdominal pain resulted in a CT scan.
  • 18% to 32% of child ER visits for convulsions resulted in a CT scan.
  • 25% to 43% of child ER visits for fainting resulted in a CT scan.
  • 20% to 40% of child ER visits for flank pain resulted in a CT scan.

CT rates for children with abdominal pain increased more than did CT scans for headache or head injury. That may be increasing U.S. kids' overall radiation exposure, as abdominal CT scans expose kids up to seven times more radiation than do head CT scans.

The findings "underscore the need for special attention to this vulnerable population to ensure that imaging is appropriately ordered, performed, and interpreted," Larson and colleagues conclude.

What can parents do? According to the Radiological Society of North America, parents should talk with the doctor ordering a pediatric CT scan -- or with the radiology physician -- about:

  • Whether the scan will result in a clear medical benefit.
  • Using the lowest amount of radiation based on the child's size.
  • Scanning only the area of the body indicated by the child's symptoms.
  • Avoiding multiple scans.
  • Using alternative imaging techniques such as ultrasound or MRI.

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