The Second Head CT In Patients Taking DOACs

Direct oral anticoagulant drugs (DOACs) are here to stay. When they were first released, I was very concerned with our inability to reverse them. I feared that we would have a rash of our elders presenting with severe head bleeds that we could do nothing about.

Well, that has not materialized. In fact, it appears that the probability of serious bleeding is more likely with our old reversible workhorse drug, warfarin.

But we are still spooked by DOACs. Nearly every center that has a practice guideline for managing patients with TBI on blood thinners includes a repeat CT scan after a given time interval. This is typically 6, 12, or even 24 hours.

Given the evolving safety profile of DOACs, is this even necessary? The surgical group at the Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital in Michigan performed a retrospective registry review for their Level III trauma center. They reviewed the data for all adult patients who had suspected or confirmed blunt head trauma (any mechanism), were taking a DOAC, and received at least one CT scan.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were 400 patients with 498 encounters (yes, 15% came back with another TBI)
  • Patients were elderly (mean age 76) and nearly evenly split by sex
  • Fall was the most common mechanism (97%)
  • The first scan was negative in 96% of patients;12% of them did not have a repeat scan
  • Of the 420 patients who had a second scan, 418 were negative (99.5%). The two with positive scans were discharged uneventfully.
  • There were no differences based on specific DOAC, presenting GCS or mechanism

Bottom line: This is a relatively small, single institution study. However, it does appear that the authors have a large population of elderly patients suffering falls. This paper suggests that, indeed, a second scan may not be necessary. This parallels data from my own hospital. But to be on the safe side, keep an eye out for bigger, multi-institutional studies to be sure.

Reference: The utility of a second head CT scan af-ter a negative initial CT scan in head trauma patients on new direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs). Injury, article in press, June 13, 2021.

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