The number of children hospitalized for head injuries has decreased in recent years, a new study finds.
However, the rate of death from such injuries has remained about the same, even though doctors are using aggressive treatments to try to save these kids, the study found.
Newborns and African American children were at particularly high risk of dying after a head injury , the researchers said. To prevent such injuries, future research should try to determine why this is, and whether other groups are also at increased risk.
"The more we expose these high risk groups, the more we expose the vulnerable age groups and race disparities," the better able we are to tackle and prevent these injuries, said study researcher Dr. Justin Lee, a surgical resident at Baystate Children's Hospital in Springfield, Mass.
The study was presented Oct. 17 at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Boston.
Head injuries in kids
Lee and colleagues used a database to identify cases of U.S. children who were hospitalized for traumatic brain injuries (TBI ) between 2005 and 2008.
Examples of injuries included severe concussions, and injuries that cause bleeding inside the brain, Lee said.
The researchers found 175,261 pediatric traumatic brain injuries. Over the study period, the number of yearly injuries decreased from 50,088 to 36,884. This decrease is likely due to increased awareness about head injuries, and the use of helmets while bicycling, Lee said.
However, the mortality rate remained at 3.5 percent for all three years.
The four main causes of injury were being hit by a car , being in a car that was in an accident, falling and biking accidents.
Some patients required aggressive operations, including removing part of their skull (a craniotomy), or placing a hollow bolt in their brain to monitor pressure in the skull, Lee said.
Newborns were 2.8 times more likely, and African American children were 1.4 times more likely, to die of their brain injury than other children.
It's possible lower access to health care may explain the increased risk of mortality in African American children, Lee said.
By the time children require aggressive treatments for head injuries, they are already at a high risk of dying, Lee said.
"It's not that the procedures weren't good enough to rescue them," Lee said. "It's the mere fact that they even required those procedures, put them at a high risk of death," he said.
The findings suggest the key to reducing deaths from head injuries may lie not in better treatments, but in preventing these injuries in kids who are likely to suffer from them.
"It's not necessarily what we do inside the hospital," Lee said. "It's what happens pre-hospital. That is what's really going to determine the morality."
The new study has not yet been published in a scientific journal.
Pass it on: The number of head injuries in children is decreasing, but the rate of deaths from these injuries has not changed.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.