CT scans on children skyrocket over 10 year period

Researchers have found that the use of CT scans on children with abdominal pain grew dramatically over the decade between 1998 and 2008. In a study, published online Oct. 8 in the journal Pediatrics, they reported that the number of those types of CT scans grew from less then one percent to more than 15 percent over those 10 years.

Researchers, led by Jahan Fahimi, M.D., M.P.H., of the department of emergency medicine at Alameda County Medical Center-Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey in determining that during the decade, 6 percent of all pediatric emergency department visits were for abdominal pain.

While they noted that CT use for those patients grew from 0.9 percent to 15.4 percent, there was no change in ultrasound, radiograph use, diagnosis of appendicitis, or hospital admission.

"The only thing that has changed is CT scans have gone up," Fahimi told Reuters Health. "There is probably some benefit to it, but I don't know if that benefit tracks with the risk."

Fahimi suggested that one reason for CT's popularity could have something to do with defensive medicine and doctors attempting to avoid malpractice lawsuits. "A missed appendicitis is one of the top three reasons why emergency physicians will get sued," he said, according to Reuters.

Marta Hernanz-Schulman, M.D., professor of radiology and pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and chairwoman of the American College of Radiology's Pediatric Imaging Commission, told HealthDay News that while the study doesn't address the risks of CT, "the best way to look at this paper is as a warning to make sure that we look at our own practice and we do not do CT scans that are not indicated."

Still, Hernanz-Schulman said, "if you need a CT scan you should have one."

For more:
- see the study abstract
- read the Reuters Health report
- read the HealthDay article

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