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Observation After Head Injury Cuts Kids’ CT Scans

Study Shows Advantages of Postponing CT Scans in Emergency Rooms

Second Opinion

When a head injury is clearly severe, a child will get a CT scan without the observation period, of course, says Donald Frush, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology Pediatric Imaging Commission. He reviewed the findings for WebMD but was not involved in the study.

But for minor head trauma, he says, "observation is a reasonable strategy." Frush is also chair of pediatric radiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

The study, he says, supports the concept of observation in these cases.

If a CT scan is deemed necessary, he says, parents should know that the dose provided by a single CT scan to the brain of a child is roughly equal to six months to a year of ''background radiation."

He defines that as ''radiation we get from naturally occurring radioactive substances in the soil, and cosmic radiation -- from the heavens."

The radiation from a head CT, he says, ''can be as low as a few dozen chest X-rays to just over 100 chest X-rays. One chest X-ray is worth just a few days of background radiation.''

Deciding whether to do a CT scan in a child -- and when -- is complicated, Frush says.

Some parents are very concerned about waiting during the observation period, he says. Others are concerned about the radiation exposure.

"I would say that a single CT scan of the brain should provide a very low dose that should not be of concern to parents in terms of risk," Frush tells WebMD.

Parents should ask the following questions if a CT scan is needed, he says.

  • Is an exam necessary at this time? Why?
  • If it is done, will the CT be done with my child's size and age taken into account?
  • Will the person doing it have experience in children's scans?


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