Computed Tomography Use Plateaus Among Children With Emergency Visits for Abdominal Pain

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Abstract

Objectives

Abdominal pain is a common pediatric complaint to emergency departments (EDs), and clinicians often rely on imaging for diagnosis. Studies have demonstrated an increase in computed tomography (CT) in this population. Following emphasis on radiation reduction by researchers and organizations, this study evaluates recent national trends in CT use among pediatric patients presenting to EDs with abdominal pain.

Methods

This is a cross-sectional analysis of ED patients 18 years or younger with chief complaint of abdominal pain in the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2008 to 2011. Outcomes include annual proportions of visits with x-ray, ultrasound, or CT, as well as diagnosis of appendicitis and hospital admission.

Results

Of 32,304 ED visits, 2120 (6.6%) were for abdominal pain. Proportions of visits using CT, ultrasound, and plain x-ray were 16.0%, 10.5%, and 23.4%, respectively. For all outcome measures, including imaging, hospital admission, and diagnosis of appendicitis, there was no change from 2008 to 2011. Considering previous data, there was a significant rise in ultrasound use from 5.4% (95% confidence interval, 2.4%–8.4%) in 1998 to 12.1% (95% confidence interval, 9.4%–13.7%) in 2011. Multivariate analysis of CT use found the strongest predictor to be increasing age. Females, black children, and those with Medicaid insurance had lower odds of having a CT.

Conclusions

In contrast to the earlier dramatic increase in CT use for pediatric patients with abdominal pain, CT remained constant between 2008 and 2011. There was no associated change in the rate of diagnosis of appendicitis or hospitalization; however, ultrasound is increasing.

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