Clinical question: Are CT scans of the head diagnostically helpful in hospitalized patients with delirium?
Background: Studies have investigated the use of head CT scans for the evaluation of delirium in the ED, but there is scant information about the utility of head CT scans in the assessment of the hospitalized patient with delirium.
Study design: Retrospective medical record review.
Setting: Large academic medical center in Massachusetts.
Synopsis: This study was designed to assess whether head CT scans obtained on patients without a history of head trauma, fall, known intracranial process, or new neurologic deficit were useful in the workup of delirium. During a two-year period, 1,714 CT scans of the head were performed, and 398 listed the indication for the scan as “delirium, altered mental status, confusion, encephalopathy, somnolence, or unresponsiveness.” Patients with the risk factors of trauma, fall, new neurologic deficit, and known intracranial process were excluded, and 220 patients’ records were reviewed.
Only six head CT scans (2.7%) revealed an acute intracranial process. Many chronic findings were noted, such as atrophy, small vessel ischemic disease, and old stroke. The authors found that the diagnostic utility was low for a head CT scan in a patient with delirium but noted no risk factors. There may be a subset of patients in whom the diagnostic yield is higher, such as those on anticoagulation or more obtunded patients.
Bottom line: In delirious inpatients without a history of head trauma, fall, known intracranial process, or new neurologic deficit, head CT scan has low diagnostic utility.
Citation: Theisen-Toupal J, Breu AC, Mattison ML, Arnaout R. Diagnostic yield of head computed tomography for the hospitalized medical patient with delirium [published online ahead of print April 15, 2014]. J Hosp Med.