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Health Team

Do children need CT scans?

Posted May 11, 2011

Too many children with head injuries are getting unnecessary brain scans and too much exposure to radiation, according to a new report in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Leslie Glass' then-1-year-old son, Brayden, had a computed tomography (CT) scan two years ago after he fell head-first off an exam table at the pediatrician's office.

"I flipped out," Glass said. "The doctor came in, checked him out and said he looked fine. I said, 'That's not good enough.'"

Glass pushed her doctor to give Brayden a CT scan. It confirmed that he was fine.

A new study looked at 42,000 children like Brayden who had minor blunt-force head trauma.

Researchers found that children who were observed first for symptoms needed a CT scan at a lower rate than those who had not been observed, reducing their exposure to radiation.

"We know that kids can be 10 times more sensitive to radiation, so then it becomes a risk, a small risk. Then it becomes still a very small risk but a risk of developing cancer later in life," said Dr. Christoper Giza, a pediatric neurologist at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Researchers speculated that recent headlines about traumatic brain injury in athletes and children might be making parents overly cautious, but they said serious brain injuries are uncommon.

More study is needed to determine how long a child needs to be watched before deciding whether a CT scan is needed, Giza said.

"Often a few hours is a good amount of time," he said. "Many studies have focused on a two-hour time window, some on a six-hour time window."

Despite the study, Glass said she doesn't regret getting Brayden tested.

"I'd rather have the peace of mind knowing that he was minimally exposed through a scan and know that things are OK," she said.

Giza said that it's a decision that the parents of the 7 million children who get CT scans each year need to consider carefully.

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  • HowManyOunces May 13, 2011

    FYI, my son had a CT scan, nuclear diagnostic testing, and an MRI. He was only 2 weeks old. He's almost 2 y/o now and is coping with the radiation exposure just fine.

  • Keepin_it_real_in_NC May 13, 2011

    "According to pediatricians, no child should survive to adulthood due to all the deadly environmental exposures..."

    And according to liberals, they don't even want children born.

  • baracus May 12, 2011

    "My 1 year old's head went from the 80th to the 90th percentile in 1 month. The CT found something. The MRI confirmed that he had multiple brain tunors. I do not regret putting him throu a CT scan."

    I don't think the authors of this report would disagree with you. Your child clearly exhibited symptoms of a problem. Ordering a CT for an asymptomatic child just because they bumped their heads is a different story.

    They aren't saying that kids should never get CTs. What they are saying is that exposing kids to radiation does present some risks. Those risks need to be weighed against the risk of missing a diagnosis if the CT is not done.

  • mjade01 May 12, 2011

    My 1 year old's head went from the 80th to the 90th percentile in 1 month. The CT found something. The MRI confirmed that he had multiple brain tunors. I do not regret putting him throu a CT scan.

  • carrboroyouth May 12, 2011

    I agree Pseudonym! Some parents refuse to leave a doctor's office until they get a prescription for antibiotics, even when their kid has a VIRUS. Their snotty-nosed children are farming superbugs...

  • Pseudonym May 12, 2011

    From the story, quoting Leslie Glass: "The doctor came in, checked him out and said he looked fine. I said, 'That's not good enough.'"

    This is one of the reasons for the massive increase in healthcare prices: overprotective, worried parents who read WebMD, watch House, then take their child into the doctor for every little thing, and then don't trust the person who has probably 10 more years of education than the average person. If your child has a cough, sneezing, and runny nose, 999 times out of 1000, it's NOT lupus, CF, cancer, brain damage, SARS, or MRSA. Most likely, it's a common old and your child will feel better in about a week.

  • Arapaloosa May 12, 2011

    According to pediatricians, no child should survive to adulthood due to all the deadly environmental exposures...

  • mep May 12, 2011

    After a normal X-ray and ultrasound failed, it was a CT scan that detected my daughters life threatening condition. The CT scan saved her life! I work in a high radiation environement, and get annual chest, teeth, and sometimes neck X-rays. I've even had a couple CT scans... not glowing yet.