Some Doctors Question the Value of CT Scans for Kids

by Antoneah Armour, age 13

Each year thousands of children with head injuries have to go through the experience of having a CT scan. This test is usually performed to rule out the possibility of a serious brain injury. But a recent study found that these high-radiation scans are often unnecessary.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis looked at 42,412 children ages 18 and younger. These children sought emergency care at dozens of medical centers after suffering minor head injuries from bike collisions, car crashes, falls, or other types of accidents. The study found that only 780, or about 5 percent, of the 14,969 patients that had a CT scan were found to have serious brain injuries.        

Recent news reports and various medical journals provide a list of six indicators that could be used to show whether a child was at risk of serious brain injury and therefore in need of a CT scan. Another list was developed for children under age two.   

Signs of skull fracture and an altered mental state are the highest risk factors for children of all ages. Loss of consciousness and whether the child was involved in a traumatic incident like a car crash are other factors doctors should consider. Vomiting and headaches are important indicators for older children, while scalp swelling and abnormal behavior are symptoms to watch for in younger children.   

The new study indicates that thousands of kids who don’t need dangerous CT scans receive them anyway. One quarter of children under two years old and 21 percent of older children who were scanned did not have any of the six indicators.    

Dr. Nathan Kuppermann, principal investigator for the federally financed study and chairman of emergency medicine at the UC-Davis Health System in California, suggests that CT scans not be administered to children who don’t show any of these indicator symptoms.

[Source: The New York Times]