‘Fast MRI’ a good alternative to CT for kids with head injuries

New research out of the University of Colorado School of Medicine has shown that “fast MRI” can effectively identify traumatic brain injuries in kids—a good alternative to CT scanning.

The study, published Sept. 18 in Pediatrics, found that the results of MRI scans performed in more than 200 kids “matched” CT results in more than 90% of cases.

"We found that fast MRI is a reasonable alternative to CT," said Daniel Lindberg, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine at the CU School of Medicine, in a prepared statement. "Nearly all—99 percent— of fast MRIs were completed successfully, with accuracy that was similar to CT, while avoiding the harms of radiation exposure."

Up to 70% of the 1.6 million kids who visit a U.S. emergency department for traumatic brain injury undergo a CT scan. This, the authors noted, exposes patients to ionizing radiation and increased risk of cancer. Fast MRI does not require sedation and, in this study, can be performed in six minutes.

The researchers enrolled 225 kids who were under six years old and had undergone prior CT scans during an ED visit in their study. All participants received fast MRI scanning within 24 hours of their initial CT.

Fast MRI results were comparable to CT scans in most cases. CT, however, was more accurate at identifying skull fractures or breaks, while MRI was better at imaging the brain and space between the brain and skull. The median imaging time for fast MRI was 6:05. 

Lindberg and colleagues did acknowledge that they had access to state-of-the-art MRI scanners and seasoned clinicians—a luxury other settings may not have.

“We were fortunate to be using newer scanning equipment and highly experienced technicians and pediatric radiologists," Lindberg said. "While we believe our findings reveal a feasible alternative to CTs in pediatric specialty centers, further study is necessary to test the results in other settings."