Unnecessary CAT Scans For Kids Could Pose Other Health Risks

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About half a million kids end up in the emergency room each year because of head injuries, but doctors say that many of them get CAT scans that aren't even necessary.

Those tests could lead to long-term health risks.

Francine Young took her 2-year-old daughter to a pediatric emergency room after she slipped and hit her head on a dresser at home.

"She vomited shortly after, and she kept complaining about the pain in her head," Young said.

Like Gabriella, about 500,000 children a year end up in ERs because of a head injury. Of those 500,000, doctors say about half get a CAT scan. The American Academy of Pediatrics says about a third of those tests aren't necessary.

"Many patients with concussions are a little dazed, a little off, a little headache, a little nauseated, and those patients, in the absence of any other finding, would not really need a CT scan," neurologist Dr. Ronald Jacobson said.

Parents may be playing a role in the increase in CAT scans. A Consumer Reports survey reveals that more than one-third of parents say they would insist on a CAT scan if their child received a significant blow to the head.

Consumer Reports medical adviser and neurologist Dr. Orly Avitzur says radiation from CAT scans increases the risk of cancer.

"Children are more susceptible than adults to the risks of radiation and there is concern about lifetime cumulative effects of radiation exposure," Avitzur said.

A CAT scan of the head can expose a child to a significant amount of radiation: up to 400 times a regular dental bitewing X-Ray.

Consumer Reports says there are times when CAT scans are important. They say the tests should be done after a serious accident like a car crash; or when there are serious symptoms like confusion, loss of consciousness, loss of hearing or vision, or tingling on one side of the body.