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Acad Emerg Med. 2013 Aug;20(8):753-60. doi: 10.1111/acem.12184.

Traumatic intracranial injury in intoxicated patients with minor head trauma.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Denver Health Medical Center, Denver, CO; University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO.



Studies focusing on minor head injury in intoxicated patients report disparate prevalences of intracranial injury. It is unclear if the typical factors associated with intracranial injury in published clinical decision rules for computerized tomography (CT) acquisition are helpful in differentiating patients with and without intracranial injuries, as intoxication may obscure particular features of intracranial injury such as headache and mimic other signs of head injury such as altered mental status. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence of intracranial injury following minor head injury (Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score ≥14) in intoxicated patients and to assess the performance of established clinical decision rules in this population.


This was a prospective cohort study of consecutive intoxicated adults presenting to the emergency department (ED) following minor head injury. Historical and physical examination features included those from the Canadian CT Head Rule, National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS), and New Orleans Criteria. All patients underwent head CT.


A total of 283 patients were enrolled, with a median age of 40 years (interquartile range [IQR] = 28 to 48 years) and median alcohol concentration of 195 mmol/L (IQR = 154 to 256 mmol/L). A total of 238 of 283 (84%) were male, and 225 (80%) had GCS scores of 15. Clinically important injuries (injuries requiring admission to the hospital or neurosurgical follow-up) were identified in 23 patients (8%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 5% to 12%); one required neurosurgical intervention (0.4%, 95% CI = 0% to 2%). Loss of consciousness and headache were associated with clinically important intracranial injury on CT. The Canadian CT Head Rule had a sensitivity of 70% (95% CI = 47% to 87%) and NEXUS criteria had a sensitivity of 83% (95% CI = 61% to 95%) for clinically important injury in intoxicated patients.


In this study, the prevalence of clinically important injury in intoxicated patients with minor head injury was significant. While the presence of the common features associated with intracranial injury in nonintoxicated patients should raise clinical suspicion for intracranial injury in intoxicated patients, the Canadian CT Head Rule and NEXUS criteria do not have adequate sensitivity to be applied in intoxicated patients with minor head injury.

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