From the Journals

Neuroimaging may often be unneeded in ED seizure treatment



Neuroimaging may be appropriate only for specific types of patients with recurrent seizures who present at emergency departments because the scans are otherwise unlikely to prompt acute changes in treatment, a new multicenter study suggests.

A patient is rushed through a hospital corridor. Spotmatik/Thinkstock

“Going forward, our results should help ED providers determine which patients are more likely to derive benefit from neuroimaging and which patients are not likely to benefit,” lead author Martin Salinsky, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, said in an interview. “They can be more selective in ordering scans and reduce the total number obtained.”

As the study authors noted in their report, published July 18 in Epilepsia, “head CT is generally considered a benign procedure. However, overuse is problematic.”

The scans are costly and expose patients to radiation equivalent to 10 chest x-rays, the authors wrote. Scans can complicate care by clogging ED work flow and producing false positives, and patients often seize while undergoing scans, creating even more complications, they added.

“There is very little information in the medical literature that would help guide ED providers in their decision of whether to obtain neuroimaging on a patient who presents with a recurrent seizure,” Dr. Salinsky said. “Without this information, the tendency is to be cautious and obtain scans in more patients.”

For the study, the researchers tracked 822 consecutive ED visits for nonindex – recurrent – epileptic seizures at Oregon Health & Science University and VA Portland Health Care medical centers. (Nonindex seizures accounted for 78% of the total seizures that prompted ED care.)

The study subjects were adults treated for seizure as the main complaint. Patients who had a history of seizures but hadn’t had one for at least 5 years were excluded.

Of the total nonindex seizures, 46% of those resulted in neuroimaging.

“The overall yield of neuroimaging in this patient group was 2%-3%,” Dr. Salinsky said, referring to the percentage of patients whose scans resulted in an acute change in management.

False positives due to imaging artifacts were subsequently discovered in 3 of the 11 patients whose neuroimaging prompted an acute change in management. When the false positives were removed, the yield of acute management changes prompted by neuroimaging decreased to 2.1% overall.

“Three clinical factors – acute head trauma, prolonged alteration of consciousness, and focal neurological examination [at presentation] – were associated with an increased yield of imaging,” he said. “Absent all three factors, the yield in our patients was zero.”

At the two medical centers, the percentages of patients with acute head trauma were 10% and 15%. Prolonged alteration of consciousness occurred in 6% at both centers, and focal neurological examination at presentation was observed in 12% and 14%.

A fourth factor, presentation with status epilepticus/acute repetitive seizures, “bordered on statistical significance and might have reached significance in a larger series,” the authors wrote.

As they put it, “these results support a more conservative use of ED neuroimaging for nonindex seizures, based on clinical factors at the time of presentation. ... without specific indications, ED neuroimaging for nonindex seizures is unlikely to result in an acute change in care.”

The study authors estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved annually in the United States if neuroimaging in these ED patients could be cut in half.

No study funding was reported, and the authors reported no relevant disclosures.


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