Background and Objective:

Pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in children. Computed tomography (CT) is the modality of choice to screen for brain injuries. MRI may provide more clinically relevant information. The purpose of this study was to compare lesion detection between CT and MRI after TBI.


Retrospective cohort of children (0–21 years) with TBI between 2008 and 2010 at a Level 1 pediatric trauma center with a head CT scan on day of injury and a brain MRI scan within 2 weeks of injury. Agreement between CT and MRI was determined by κ statistic and stratified by injury mechanism.


One hundred five children were studied. Of these, 78% had mild TBI. The MRI scan was obtained a median of 1 day (interquartile range, 1–2) after CT. Overall, CT and MRI demonstrated poor agreement (κ = −0.083; P = .18). MRI detected a greater number of intraparenchymal lesions (n = 36; 34%) compared with CT (n = 16; 15%) (P < .001). Among patients with abusive head trauma, MRI detected intraparenchymal lesions in 16 (43%), compared with only 4 (11%) lesions with CT (P = .03). Of 8 subjects with a normal CT scan, 6 out of 8 had abnormal lesions on MRI.


Compared with CT, MRI identified significantly more intraparenchymal lesions in pediatric TBI, particularly in children with abusive head trauma. The prognostic value of identification of intraparenchymal lesions by MRI is unknown but warrants additional inquiry. Risks and benefits from early MRI (including sedation, time, and lack of radiation exposure) compared with CT should be weighed by clinicians.

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