Literature Review

CDC Publishes Guideline for Diagnosing and Treating Pediatric mTBI


The CDC has developed a guideline for the diagnosis and management of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in children. The guideline was published online ahead of print September 4 in JAMA Pediatrics. To support the “multifaceted approach” that the authors recommend for implementing the guideline, the CDC has created materials such as a screening tool, online training, fact sheets, patient discharge instructions, and symptom-based recovery tips.

The number of emergency department visits for mTBI has increased significantly during the past decade, said the authors, yet no evidence-based clinical guidelines had been drafted in the United States to guide the diagnosis, prognosis, and management of this condition. To fill this gap, the CDC established the Pediatric mTBI Guideline Workgroup, which drafted recommendations based on a systematic review of research published from January 1990 through July 2015.


The first section of the guideline offers recommendations for diagnosis. Health care professionals should not routinely obtain head CT in children with suspected mTBI, say the authors. They should, however, use validated clinical decision rules to identify children with mTBI at low risk for intracranial injury in whom CT is not indicated, as well as children at higher risk for intracranial injury for whom CT may be warranted. The authors cite the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) decision rules as an example.

Furthermore, health care professionals should not routinely use brain MRI to evaluate suspected or diagnosed mTBI in children, according to the guideline. No study examining whether this imaging technique is appropriate met the workgroup’s inclusion criteria.

An age-appropriate, validated symptom rating scale should be one component of the diagnostic evaluation, say the authors. The Standardized Assessment of Concussion, however, “should not be exclusively used to diagnose mTBI in children aged 6 to 18,” they add. Finally, the guideline discourages the use of biomarkers (ie, serum markers) for diagnosis outside of a research setting.


The second section of the document provides guidance on developing a prognosis. Clinicians should advise patients and their families that most children with mTBI do not have significant difficulties that last for more than one to three months after injury, say the authors. They also should state that even though certain factors predict a child’s risk for prolonged symptoms, “each child’s recovery from mTBI is unique and will follow its own trajectory.”

Health care professionals should evaluate a child’s premorbid history as soon as possible to help determine the prognosis, say the authors. Children and families should be advised that factors such as history of mTBI, lower cognitive ability, and neurologic disorder can delay recovery from mTBI. Clinicians should screen for known risk factors for persistent symptoms and use a combination of tools (eg, validated symptom scales, cognitive testing, and balance testing) to assess recovery, according to the guideline.

Children with mTBI at high risk for persistent symptoms should be monitored closely. “For children with mTBI whose symptoms do not resolve as expected with standard care (ie, within four to six weeks), health care professionals should provide or refer for appropriate assessments and interventions,” say the authors.

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