Outpatient follow-up of nonoperative cerebral contusion and traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage: does repeat head CT alter clinical decision-making?

Clinical article

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  • 1 Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover; and
  • | 2 Section of Neurosurgery, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire
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Object

Many neurosurgeons obtain repeat head CT at the first clinic follow-up visit for nonoperative cerebral contusion and traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage (tSAH). The authors undertook a single-center, retrospective study to determine whether outpatient CT altered clinical decision-making.

Methods

The authors evaluated 173 consecutive adult patients admitted to their institution from April 2006 to August 2012 with an admission diagnosis of cerebral contusion or tSAH and at least 1 clinic follow-up visit with CT. Patients with epidural, subdural, aneurysmal subarachnoid, or intraventricular hemorrhage, and those who underwent craniotomy, were excluded. Patient charts were reviewed for new CT findings, new patient symptoms, and changes in treatment plan. Patients were stratified by neurological symptoms into 3 groups: 1) asymptomatic; 2) mild, nonspecific symptoms; and 3) significant symptoms. Mild, nonspecific symptoms included minor headaches, vertigo, fatigue, and mild difficulties with concentration, short-term memory, or sleep; significant symptoms included moderate to severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, focal neurological complaints, impaired consciousness, or new cognitive impairment evident on routine clinical examination.

Results

One hundred seventy-three patients met inclusion criteria, with initial clinic follow-up obtained within approximately 6 weeks. Of the 173 patients, 104 (60.1%) were asymptomatic, 68 patients (39.3%) had mild, nonspecific neurological symptoms, and 1 patient (1.0%) had significant neurological symptoms. Of the asymptomatic patients, 3 patients (2.9%) had new CT findings and 1 of these patients (1.0%) underwent a change in treatment plan because of these findings. This change involved an additional clinic appointment and CT to monitor a 12-mm chronic subdural hematoma that ultimately resolved without treatment. Of the patients with mild, nonspecific neurological symptoms, 6 patients (8.8%) had new CT findings and 3 of these patients (4.4%) underwent a change in treatment plan because of these findings; none of these patients required surgical intervention. The single patient with significant neurological symptoms did not have any new CT findings.

Conclusions

Repeat outpatient CT of asymptomatic patients after nonoperative cerebral contusion and tSAH is very unlikely to demonstrate significant new pathology. Given the cost and radiation exposure associated with CT, imaging should be reserved for patients with significant symptoms or focal findings on neurological examination.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

GCS = Glasgow Coma Scale; SDH = subdural hematoma; TBI = traumatic brain injury; tSAH = traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage.

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