Pharmacological sedation for cranial computed tomography in children after minor blunt head trauma

John D. Hoyle, James M. Callahan, Mohamed Badawy, Elizabeth Powell, Elizabeth Jacobs, Michael Gerardi, Kraig Melville, Michelle Miskin, Shireen M. Atabaki, Peter Dayan, James F. Holmes, Nathan Kuppermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Children evaluated in emergency departments for blunt head trauma (BHT) frequently undergo computed tomography (CT), with some requiring pharmacological sedation. Cranial CT sedation complications are understudied. The objective of this study was to document the frequency, type, and complications of pharmacological sedation for cranial CT in children. METHODS: We prospectively enrolled children (younger than 18 years) with minor BHT presenting to 25 emergency departments from 2004 to 2006. Data collected included sedation agent and complications. We excluded patients with Glasgow Coma Scale scores of less than 14. RESULTS: Of 57,030 eligible patients, 43,904 (77%) were enrolled in the parent study; 15,176 (35%) had CT scans performed or planned, and 527 (3%) received pharmacological sedation for CT. Sedated patients' characteristics were as follows: median age, 1.7 years (interquartile range, 1.1-2.5 years); male 61%; Glasgow Coma Scale score of 15, 86%; traumatic brain injury on CT, 8%. There were 488 patients (93%) who received 1 sedative. Sedation use (0%-21%) and regimen varied by site. Pentobarbital (n = 164) and chloral hydrate (n = 149) were the most frequently used agents. Sedation complications occurred in 49 patients (9%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 7%-12%): laryngospasm 1 (0.2%; 95% CI, 0%-1.1%), failed sedation 31 (6%; 95% CI, 4%-8%), vomiting 6 (1%; 95% CI, 0.4%-2%), hypotension 13 (4%; 95% CI, 2%-7%), and hypoxia 1 (0.2%; 95% CI, 0%-2%). No cases of apnea, aspiration, or reversal agent use occurred. One patient required intubation. Vomiting and failed sedation were most common with chloral hydrate. CONCLUSIONS: Pharmacological sedation is infrequently used for children with minor BHT undergoing CT, and complications are uncommon. The variability in sedation medications and frequency suggests a need for evidence-based guidelines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalPediatric emergency care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • computed tomography
  • pharmacological sedation
  • traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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