Boston, MA (NBC) — All kids, at some point, fall down and bang their head, but when is a CT Scan necessary to see if any damage has been done to their brains?
"Our job as clinicians is to identify those children at high risk without overtesting those at low risk," states Dr. Lise Nigrovic, who’s an emergency room doctor at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
She led a new study of more than 40,000 children that helps clarify how to treat the majority of kids who come in with head trauma. Nigrovic and her colleagues found most children can be observed safely in the hospital for a few hours to see if their condition worsens before making the decision to go ahead with a potentially risky CT scan.
While CT scans can find skull fractures, brain bleeds and swelling, doctors say that's rare. The tests expose young patients to ionizing radiation, potentially increasing children's risk of developing cancer at any time during their lives.
"They're still growing and so their cells are dividing and as well they have a long life ahead of them so they have a longer time to develop malignancy," says Nigrovic.
The usual watchful waiting period after a head injury is 4 to 6 hours. Doctors say if kids seem to be getting better, chances are -- it's a typical childhood bump and bruise.