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J Pediatr Surg. 2011 Jul;46(7):1342-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2010.12.019.

Neurologically intact children with an isolated skull fracture may be safely discharged after brief observation.

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Division of Pediatric Surgery, Primary Children's Medical Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84113, USA.



The management of children presenting with an isolated skull fracture (ISF) posttrauma is highly variable. We sought to estimate the risk of neurologic deterioration in children with a Glasgow coma score (GCS) 15 and ISF to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions.


A retrospective review at a level I pediatric trauma referral center was conducted for patients with ISF on head computed tomography from 2003 to 2008. Patients were excluded for injury greater than 24 hours prior, GCS less than 15, intracranial pathology, significant fracture depression, or complex fractures involving facial bones or skull base.


A total of 235 patients were identified with an ISF. The median age was 11 months, with falls accounting for 87% of the injuries. One hundred seventy-seven patients were admitted, and 58 patients were discharged from the emergency department after a period of observation (median, 3.3 hours). Median length of stay for those admitted to the hospital was 18.2 hours. One patient developed vomiting following overnight observation and a repeat computed tomography scan demonstrated a small extra-axial hematoma that required no intervention. The mean total costs for patients discharged from the emergency department were $291 vs $1447 for those admitted for observation (P < .001).


Patients with a presenting GCS of 15 and an ISF can be safely discharged from the emergency department after a short period of observation if they are asymptomatic and have a reliable social environment. This could result in significant savings by eliminating inpatient costs.

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