One of the most common reasons children are brought to the Emergency Department is head trauma. Active, healthy children frequently hit their heads during falls, sports and normal play, or sustain a head injury in an automobile collision. While the vast majority of the millions of head bumps that occur each year are not serious, many parents appropriately bring their children to the emergency department just to be sure.
For decades, physicians have ordered head CAT scans to provide that certainty. The scans, when returned normal, ease the parents’ minds. But research is increasingly questioning the need for so many CAT scans, which are expensive and expose children to small risks inherent in the procedure.
While some people still ask, “Isn’t it just safer to CAT scan everyone?” The answer is, simply, “no.”
Sedation, radiation risks
Many children require sedation to help them hold still for the procedure. Some children suffer complications or -- very rarely -- die from sedation. Many must have an intravenous (IV) catheter placed and require observation after sedation, even if the test is normal.
Furthermore, recent data show that any radiation exposure (particularly from CAT scans) increases the lifetime risk of cancer, particularly in children. The risk is small, but real.
The good news
The good news is that because of new research we can now identify which children with head injuries will benefit from a CAT scan and which can safely avoid one. Doctors at NHRMC follow tested guidelines based on the results of their examination and how the child is acting.
Of course more seriously injured children still need CAT scans and other X-rays to help identify serious injuries, but these will only be used when they are necessary. Evidence-based guidelines help ensure that your child will receive only necessary tests and the lowest radiation needed for his or her care.