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Fracture-Associated Bruising and Soft Tissue Swelling in Young Children With Skull Fractures: How Sensitive Are They to Fracture Presence?

OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to determine how reliable scalp bruising and soft tissue swelling/cephalohematomas (STS) are for underlying young child skull fractures.

METHODS: This was a retrospective clinical and imaging review from 2011 to 2012 of children younger than 4 years with skull fractures from 2 tertiary care hospitals. Imaging was reread by 3 pediatric radiologists. Descriptive statistics were utilized. The retrospective review had institutional review board approval.

RESULTS: We identified 218 subjects for review: 210 unintentional and 8 abusive. One hundred forty-three had available 3-dimensional computed tomography reconstructions: 136 unintentional and 7 abused. Two-thirds were younger than 1 year. Twelve subjects had visible scalp bruising, but 73% had clinically and 93% radiologically apparent fracture-associated STS. There was no difference in clinical STS with simple (79%) versus complex (68%) fractures. Nor was there difference in subjects with fractures from minor (77%) versus major (70%) trauma. Unintentionally injured infants did not differ from abused for detectable STS (74% vs 50%). Parietal and frontal bones most frequently sustained fractures and most consistently had associated STS.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinically apparent STS is present in approximately three-fourths of children with skull fractures. It may not be important to consistently identify skull fractures in unintentionally injured children. Point-of-care ultrasound may be adequate. For abuse concerns, it is important to identify skull fractures as evidence of cranial impacts and intracranial hemorrhages. The most sensitive, widely available imaging technique, cranial computed tomography scan with 3-dimensional skull reconstruction, should be utilized. Scalp bruising is present in a minority of young children with skull fractures. Its absence does not exclude cranial impact injury.

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