CDC releases guidelines for pediatric mTBI

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Guidelines bring mTBI research to the pediatric bedside

A growing realization that mTBI can have persistent and significant deleterious effects has informed medical and public attitudes toward concussion in children, which now results in almost 1 million annual ED visits.

Progress at the laboratory bench has elucidated much of the neurometabolic cascade that occurs with the insult of mTBI, and has allowed researchers to document the path of brain healing after injury. Neuroimaging now can go beyond static images to trace neural networks and detect previously unseen and subtle functional deficits engendered by mTBI.

In particular, 21st century magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown increased sensitivity over CT alone. In the TRACK-TBI study, over one in four patients whose CTs were read as normal had MRI findings consistent with trauma-induced pathology. Both multimodal MRI and serum biomarkers show promise, although more research regarding their utility is needed, particularly in the case of proteomic biomarkers.

Still, high-quality studies of pediatric mTBI are scant, and translation of burgeoning research into clinical practice is severely impeded by the numerous knowledge gaps that exist in the field.

Dr. Lumba-Brown and her colleagues have synthesized research that supports a neurobiopsychosocial model of mTBI in children that comes into play most prominently in the postacute phase, when non–injury-related factors such as demographics, socioeconomic status, and premorbid psychological conditions are strong mediators of the recovery trajectory.

With children as with adults, scant research guides the path forward for treatment and recovery from mTBI. For children, clinicians are still grappling with issues surrounding return to full participation in the academic and recreational activities of the school environment.

Data from two currently active studies should help light the way forward, however. The TRACK-TBI study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will include almost 200 children among its 2,700 enrollees who have sustained all levels of TBI.

The Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) Consortium is funded jointly by the National College Athletic Association and the Department of Defense. Between student athletes and military cadets, over 40,000 individuals are now part of the study.

The two studies’ testing modalities and methodologies align, offering the opportunity for a powerful pooled analysis that includes civilians, athletes, and those in the military.

Until then, these guidelines provide a way forward to an individualized approach to the best care for a child with mTBI.

Michael McCrea, PhD, is professor of neurology and neurosurgery, and director of brain injury research at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Geoff Manley, MD, PhD, is professor of neurologic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. Neither author reported conflicts of interest. These remarks were drawn from an editorial accompanying the guidelines and systematic review (JAMA Pediatrics. 2018 Sep 4. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2846).



Clinicians can safely skip imaging for most children with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), and should base management and prognostication on clinical decision-making tools and symptom rating scales, according to new practice guidelines issued by a working group of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (JAMA Pediatrics. 2018 Sep 4. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2853.

The guidelines were released simultaneously with a systematic review, conducted by the same authors, of the existing literature regarding pediatric mTBI (JAMA Pediatrics 2018 Sep 4. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2847). As the evaluators sorted through the literature to find high-quality studies for this population, the funnel rapidly narrowed: From an initial pool of over 15,000 studies conducted between 1990 and 2015, findings from just 75 studies were eventually included in the systematic review.

The review’s findings formed the basis for the guidelines and allowed Angela Lumba-Brown, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Stanford (Calif.) University, and her coauthors to ascribe a level of confidence in the inference from study data for a given recommendation. Recommendations also are categorized by strength and accordingly indicate that clinicians “should” or “may” follow them. Exceptions are carved out for practices, such as the use of hypertonic 3% saline solution for acute headache in the ED, that should not be used outside research settings.

In the end, the guidelines cover 19 main topics, sorted into guidance regarding the diagnosis, prognosis, and management and treatment of mTBI in children.


The recommendations regarding mTBI diagnosis center around determining which children are at risk for significant intracranial injury (ICI). The guidelines recommend, with moderate confidence, that clinicians usually should not obtain a head CT for children with mTBI. Validated clinical decision rules should be used for risk stratification to determine which children can safely avoid imaging and which children should be considered for head CT, wrote Dr. Lumba-Brown and her coauthors. Magnetic resonance imaging is not recommended for initial evaluation of mTBI, nor should skull radiographs be ordered in the absence of clinical suspicion for skull fracture.

From the systematic review, Dr. Lumba-Brown and her colleagues found that several risk factors taken together may mean that significant ICI is more likely. These include patient age younger than 2 years; any vomiting, loss of consciousness, or amnesia; a severe mechanism of injury, severe or worsening headache, or nonfrontal scalp hematoma; a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of less than 15; and clinical suspicion for skull fracture. Clinicians should give consideration to the risks of ionizing radiation to the head, and balance this against their assessment of risk for severe – and perhaps actionable – injury.

A validated symptom rating scale, used in an age-appropriate way, should be used as part of the evaluation of children with mTBI. For children aged 6 and older, the Graded Symptom Checklist is an appropriate tool within 2 days after injury, while the Post Concussion Symptom Scale as part of computerized neurocognitive testing can differentiate which high school athletes have mTBI when used within 4 days of injury, according to the guidelines, which also identify other validated symptom rating scales.

The guidelines authors recommend, with high confidence, that serum biomarkers should not be used outside of research settings in the diagnosis of mTBI in children at present.


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