Background: The purpose of this study was to investigate whether routine follow-up computed tomography (CT) for patients with head injury, in the absence of clinical indications, alters patient management.
Methods: Nonpenetrating head injury patients admitted to San Francisco General Hospital during an 18-month period were reviewed. Patients not surgically treated at presentation and with a routine follow-up head CT within 24 hours were included. Surgical and nonsurgical interventions after repeat CT were assessed. Clinical and imaging parameters were correlated with progressive hemorrhagic injury (PHI) and with delayed development of surgical lesions.
Results: PHI was identified in 49 (42%) of 116 patients. None of these patients required a nonoperative intervention in response to the PHI. Six of these patients developed a neurologic change concurrent with routine follow-up imaging and required operative intervention. Thus, no patient underwent an intervention in response to a worsening head CT in the absence of clinical findings. Of the six patients who developed a surgical lesion, two had increased intracranial pressure, one had a change in pupillary examination, three had worsening mental status, and one had change in the motor examination. Univariate risk factors for development of a delayed surgical lesion included 5 to 10 mm of midline shift (p = 0.001), basal cistern effacement (p = 0.01), and higher Marshall score (p = 0.01) on initial CT imaging.
Conclusions: Although PHI is common with head injury, delayed interventions in the absence of clinical indicators are uncommon. Our data suggest that early follow-up CT imaging in the setting of head trauma is not routinely indicated. We suggest that assessment, based on the severity of findings on initial brain imaging and serial clinical examinations, should guide the need for follow-up imaging in the setting of head trauma.