Falls are the most common cause of head injuries in children under the age of 2, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of death and medical complications in children older than 1 year, wrote the authors in the study backgrounder. However, details about how the injuries are caused and the role of the child’s age at the time of the injury have not been thoroughly investigated.
To that end, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine analyzed data collected from 43,399 head trauma patients who visited the emergency departments of 25 U.S. hospitals from 2004 to 2006. The research team looked at children with head injuries of all severities, including deep coma. Injuries were categorized as mild, moderate or severe.
Their findings showed that in children under the age of 2, falls accounted for 77 percent of head injuries. Falls were the cause of 38 percent of head injuries in children aged 2 to 12.
For teens, however, there was a vastly different picture. Of the head injuries suffered by kids ages 13 to 17, 24 percent were due to assault, 19 percent were sports-related, and 18 percent were sustained in motor-vehicle accidents.
In addition, the investigators found that among the kids who suffered head injuries in motor-vehicle accidents, fewer than half were wearing seat belts. Among children who received head injuries while riding a bike, less than 20 percent were wearing protective helmets.
The study also revealed that while 98 percent of the patients in the study had mild head trauma, 37 percent had CT scans. Of that group, only 7 percent of the children actually had traumatic brain injuries, suggesting that the scans may be overused in diagnosis. This is of concern because exposure to the scan’s doses of radiation may increase the risk of cancer later in life.
“Criteria that suggest a low risk of traumatic brain injury and observing a child before resorting to a CT scan can reduce the use of unnecessary scans,” lead author Kimberly S. Quayle, MD, professor of pediatrics at Washington University, said in a news release.
Overall, Quayle noted that the study presented a “wide range” of important information about head trauma in children. “The findings may provide reliable guideposts in developing injury-prevention measures and should help physicians in diagnosing and treating these injuries based on strong evidence.”