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Pediatrics. 2013 Aug;132(2):e356-63. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-0299. Epub 2013 Jul 22.

Incidental findings in children with blunt head trauma evaluated with cranial CT scans.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Michigan Hospital and Health Systems, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.



Cranial computed tomography (CT) scans are frequently obtained in the evaluation of blunt head trauma in children. These scans may detect unexpected incidental findings. The objectives of this study were to determine the prevalence and significance of incidental findings on cranial CT scans in children evaluated for blunt head trauma.


This was a secondary analysis of a multicenter study of pediatric blunt head trauma. Patients <18 years of age with blunt head trauma were eligible, with those undergoing cranial CT scan included in this substudy. Patients with coagulopathies, ventricular shunts, known previous brain surgery or abnormalities were excluded. We abstracted radiology reports for nontraumatic findings. We reviewed and categorized findings by their clinical urgency.


Of the 43,904 head-injured children enrolled in the parent study, 15,831 underwent CT scans, and these latter patients serve as the study cohort. On 670 of these scans, nontraumatic findings were identified, with 16 excluded due to previously known abnormalities or surgeries. The remaining 654 represent a 4% prevalence of incidental findings. Of these, 195 (30%), representing 1% of the overall sample, warranted immediate intervention or outpatient follow-up.


A small but important number of children evaluated with CT scans after blunt head trauma had incidental findings. Physicians who order cranial CTs must be prepared to interpret incidental findings, communicate with families, and ensure appropriate follow-up. There are ethical implications and potential health impacts of informing patients about incidental findings.


brain imaging; computed tomography; congenital abnormalities/anomalies; emergency department

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