The Utility of Head Computed Tomography in the Evaluation of Apparent Life-Threatening Event

Wayne Stark, Annie Rominger, Fred Warkentine, Kerry Caperell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective This study aimed to evaluate the diagnostic utility of empiric head computed tomography (CT) in apparent life threatening event (ALTE). Methods This was a retrospective chart review of children younger than 12 months presenting to an urban pediatric hospital and its suburban satellite for an ALTE from October 2009 to December 2012. The ALTE cases were identified as having had a diagnosis of ALTE (International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision 799.82) or as having had a constellation of studies performed consistent with our institutional protocol for ALTE evaluation. Exclusion criteria were known trauma and cases lacking an identifiable ALTE feature on review. Results There were 631 cases identified, of which 617 met inclusion and exclusion criteria. Of those, 537 had a head CT performed. Five patients were identified with clinically important head CT findings: A case of congenital toxoplasmosis, a case of intraventricular hemorrhage, and 3 cases of nonaccidental trauma (NAT). One of the NAT patients had a bruise on his forehead; the other patients had no historical, physical examination, and other laboratory or radiologic findings to raise concern for significant finding on head CT. The rate of clinically significant findings and occult clinically significant findings was 5/537 (0.93%) (95% confidence interval, 0.30%-2.16%; number needed to treat = 108) and 4/537 (0.75%) (95% confidence interval, 0.20%-1.90%; number needed to treat = 135), respectively. Conclusions The rate of clinically important head CT findings in ALTE evaluation was relatively rare, at 0.93%. Given the severe consequences of missing these cases, these data establish a role for empiric head CT in the evaluation of ALTE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-627
Number of pages5
JournalPediatric emergency care
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • child abuse
  • head injuries, closed
  • infantile apparent life-Threatening event

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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