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J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2013 Dec;75(6):995-1001. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3182ab065b.

Mechanism of injury alone is not justified as the sole indication for computed tomographic imaging in blunt pediatric trauma.

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From the Department of Surgery, Denver Health Medical Center, University of Colorado, Denver School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado.



The liberal use of computed tomographic (CT) scanning during the evaluation of injured children has increased their exposure to the risks of ionizing radiation. We hypothesized that CT imaging performed for mechanism of injury alone is unnecessary and that serious or life-threatening injury is rarely identified.


All pediatric blunt trauma team evaluations (age < 15 years) at a pediatric Level 2 trauma center over 72 months were reviewed. CT findings in patients with normal Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score, vital signs (VS), and physical examination (PE) (Group I) were compared with Group II (GCS score < 15), Group III (abnormal VS/PE), and Group IV (abnormal GCS score, VS/PE). Variables associated with any positive finding were entered into a multiple logistic regression model to assess for independent contributions. Each patient's total effective radiation dose from CT scans in millisieverts was calculated using an age-adjusted scale.


A total 174 children met trauma team activation criteria (mean [SD] age, 7 [5] years; 63% male; mean [SD] Injury Severity Score [ISS], 10 [10]). A total of 153 (88%) were imaged by CT (I, 54 of 66; II, 25 of 25; III, 49 of 57; IV, 25 of 26). No patient in Group I had a serious finding on CT compared with Group II (17 of 77), III (25 of 111), and IV (18 of 72). Mortality was 4%. Radiation dose (mSv) from CT was not different among the groups (I, 17 [14]; II, 29 [13]; III, 21 [16]; IV, 27 [17]). By univariate analysis, GCS score of less than 15 (p < 0.01) and respiratory rate of greater than 30 (p = 0.09) were associated with a positive CT finding. By logistic regression analysis, GCS score of less than 15 remained the only variable associated significantly with a positive finding (odds ratio, 6.7; 95% confidence interval, 3-14; p < 0.01).


In children imaged based only on mechanism, no patient had a serious positive finding but was subjected to radiation doses associated with an increased risk of future malignancy. The use of CT imaging in injured children in the absence of a physiologic or anatomic abnormality does not seem to be justified.


Care management study, level IV.

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