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Imaging infants with head injury: effect of a change in policy
  1. J G Browning1,
  2. M J Reed1,
  3. A G Wilkinson2,
  4. T Beattie1
  1. 1Accident and Emergency Department, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Radiology Department, Royal Hospital for Sick Children
  1. Correspondence to:
 Miss J G Browning
 Accident and Emergency Department, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Sciennes Road, Edinburgh EH7 5HD, UK;


Objective: Head injury is one of the commoner injuries presenting to the emergency department (ED). Infants are hard to assess clinically and emphasis has been placed on radiological examination. Skull radiographs, however, are not a reliable indicator of intracranial injury. As a result of this the policy in this ED was revised so that skull radiographs were only to be performed in those infants less than 1 year with visible evidence of head injury or a suspicious history for non-accidental injury.

Methods: Retrospective cohort study of all infants less than 1 year who presented with head trauma to the ED of a paediatric teaching hospital between 1 August 1998 and 31 July 1999, and between 1 August 2002 and 31 July 2003. Hospital notes and radiology computer systems were examined and data were collected and analysed.

Results: 181 infants aged less than 1 year presenting to the ED in 1998/9 and 190 infants in 2002/3. Altogether 140 (77.3%) infants had a skull radiograph in 1998/9, five (3.6%) identified skull fractures. During 2002/3, 56 (29.5%) infants had a radiograph, a reduction of 47.5%, of which three (5.4%) had skull fractures. All fractures had reported haematomas to their scalp. The change in policy decreased the total radiation dose to the population by 9.4 mSv. No significant injuries were missed as a result of the change in policy.

Interpretation: In infants under 1 year, unless non-accidental injury is suspected, it is suggested that skull radiographs should only be performed when there are visible signs of a head injury.

  • NAI, non-accidental injury
  • HI, head injury
  • ED, emergency department
  • CT, computed tomography
  • US, ultrasonography

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  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

  • Ethical approval: not required.

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