Tag Archives: blunt trauma

Blunt Vertebral Artery Injury

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’ll deal with vertebral artery injuries today. These injuries are uncommon, making them hard to study and develop management recommendations. The literature suggests that about 1% of blunt trauma patients may sustain one of these. Most commonly, the method is motor vehicle crash, and just about any mechanism (hyperflexion, hyperextension, distraction injury, and facet fractures). Fracture of C1-3 has a higher association with the injury.

What is the natural history of this injury? If treated, 67% of occluded vessels recanalize, and 90% of stenotic arteries return to normal caliber. About 15% of untreated injuries will suffer a stroke. As seen in the paper cited yesterday, a good number of these are present on patient arrival and are nonpreventable. But the key issues are identifying an injury in the first place, and treating appropriately. Unfortunately, these are not straightforward.

Although the gold standard for detecting this lesion is digital subtraction angiography, no one does this in acute trauma patients anymore. CT angiography is well established, and the sensitivity rate approaches 99%. The main question is when to get it. To see my hospital’s interpretation of the literature, download our blunt imaging protocol below.

Treatment options include anticoagulation / antiplatelet therapy and endovascular therapy. There is much more experience with the former, but it can’t be used in patients at risk for bleeding (e.g. severe TBI). Unfractionated heparin is good for in-hospital use because it easily reversed. Longer term, anti-platelet agents are preferred. Aspirin is cheaper than clopidagrel, and no study has shown convincing superiority of one over the other. Determining whether endovascular stenting or embolization is necessary requires consultation with a neurosurgeon and interventional radiologist. The decision making is complex and not laid out in the literature. It’s flying by the seat of one’s pants, at best but can be a valuable adjunct.

Followup imaging is suggested to help determine when and if anti-platelet therapy can be discontinued. The best timing for these studies has not been worked out, but since these lesions tend to evolve over 7-10 days, any time after 2 weeks should be appropriate.

Bottom line: This is a tough topic because of the scarcity of good data, which in turn is due to the rarity of the injury. I believe that finding the lesions with good screening criteria offers the best chance of preventing complications such as stroke. Choice of management is best done in collaboration with your neurosurgical and radiologist colleagues.

Related posts:

Outcome After Blunt Cerebrovascular Injury (BCVI)

Blunt injuries to the carotid and vertebral arteries are not as uncommon as we used to think. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding everything about them: screening, management, and outcome. A paper just out detailed outcomes in a (relatively) large series of these patients. 

As expected with this rare injury, it’s a retrospective study. A busy Level I center identified 222 patients with 263 BCVIs over a 4 ½ year period. Twenty four died before discharge and 11 afterwards. Of the remaining patients, only 74 could be located and only 68 could be persuaded to complete an interview and evaluation of their functional status. Functional Independence and Functional Activity Measurements were assessed (FIM/FAM).

Pertinent findings were:

  • 8 patients suffered a stroke during their initial hospital stay (5 were present on arrival in the ED)
  • 5 additional patients had a stroke after discharge
  • Only 20% reached the maximum FIM/FAM scores, even including patients who did not have a stroke
  • Patients with stroke had a significantly lower FIM/FAM
  • There was no difference in FIM/FAM in patients with carotid vs vertebral injury

Bottom Line: Even though it is limited, this is one of the best studies we will see on BCVI because it’s an uncommon problem at most centers. The most important fact here is that the stroke rate was 19% despite discharge on antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications. And if stroke occurs, it causes significant functional problems, as expected. It’s critically important that this injury be screened and identified appropriately, then given appropriate prophylaxis. More on this tomorrow.

Related posts:

Reference: Functional outcomes following blunt cerebrovascular injury. J Trauma 74(4):955-960, 2013.

Practical Tip: Evaluation of Hematuria in Blunt Trauma

Bloody urine is a relatively uncommon finding in blunt trauma patients. Hematuria ranges from microscopic to gross. Microscopic means blood that can only be seen with a microscope, and gross means visible to the naked eye. In trauma, we only care about gross hematuria, which ranges from the faintest of pink to the deepest red.

In the picture above gross hematuria is present in all tubes but the far right one. Those four will need further evaluation.

In trauma, gross hematuria is a result of an injury to kidney, ureter or bladder. Blunt injury to the ureter is so rare it’s reportable, so you can pretty much forget that one unless the mechanism is extreme. So you really just need to focus on kidney and bladder.

Any victim of blunt trauma that presents with visible hematuria needs to be evaluated by CT of the abdomen and pelvis with an added CT cystogram. Standard CT technique is done without a urinary catheter, or with the catheter clamped. This is not acceptable for hematuria evaluation, as only 50% of bladder injuries show up with this technique.

CT cystogram is an add-on to the standard CT, and consists of the administration of contrast into the bladder which is then kept under pressure while the scan is performed. Delayed slices through the pelvis after the bladder is depressurized and emptied is routine. Nearly 100% of bladder injuries are detected using this technique.

If the CT shows a renal laceration or hematoma, the patient should be admitted and managed according to your solid organ injury protocol. Kidney injuries fare better that livers and spleens, and only rarely require surgery. If no kidney or bladder injury is seen, the default diagnosis of a renal contusion is the culprit. No treatment is needed, and the patient can be discharged if no other injuries are present. The blood will clear over a few days, but may disappear and reappear a few times in the process. Be sure to warn the patient that this may occur, or you may receive some surprise phone calls. The patient can followup with their primary care physician in a week or two.

The majority of these injuries do not require urologic consultation. Complex injuries with extravasation of urine out of the kidney, or injuries to the collecting system should be referred to a urologist, however.

Algorithm For Nonoperative Management of Blunt Hepatic Trauma

Yesterday, I posted the Western Trauma Association’s algorithm for operative management of blunt liver trauma. Click here to view it. Today, I’m going to discuss their algorithm for nonoperative management. 

The algorithm is fairly self-explanatory. Click on the image above to read the annotated text for details on each step. Note: this requires full access to the Journal of Trauma.

Some key points in this algorithm:

  • Unstable patients need rapid identification of the cause. If the FAST is positive ©, then you need to go to the OR and use the operative algorithm.
  • CT scan is used for diagnosis in stable patients (F), but if a liver injury is seen and they become unstable at any time, go to the OR.
  • Contrast extravasation in a stable patient should prompt an evaluation and possible embolization by interventional radiography (G).
  • If complications develop (SIRS, abdominal pain, fever, jaundice), a repeat CT is indicated (K).
  • Abscesses and focal collections of bile may be managed by interventional radiology (L,M). Persistent bile leak may be decreased by ERCP and sphincterotomy (O).
  • Bile ascites or large hemoperitoneum may be managed using laparoscopy with drainage (N).

Reference: Western Trauma Association critical decisions in trauma: nonoperative management of adult blunt hepatic trauma. J Trauma. 67:1144–1148, 2009.

Algorithm For Operative Management of Blunt Hepatic Trauma

The Western Trauma Association has just published guidelines on decision-making when faced with hepatic injury in the OR. The algorithm is based on the available literature, which contains little prospective, randomized trial data. Nonetheless, it is a valuable tool that can be used to develop your own institution-specific protocol.

The algorithm is fairly self-explanatory. Click on the image above to read the annotated text for details on each step. Note: this requires full access to the Journal of Trauma.

Some key points in this algorithm:

  • Simple hemostatic maneuvers are usually successful with minor bleeding (A).
  • Sequential use of more involved maneuvers is indicated for major bleeding. In order, they are packing (B), Pringle maneuver (D), selective vessel ligation within the liver (E), and finally selective hepatic artery ligation (F).
  • Damage control laparotomy and interventional radiology are useful adjuncts.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the nonoperative blunt hepatic trauma algorithm. Click here to view it.

Reference: Western Trauma Association/Critical Decisions in Trauma: operative management of adult blunt hepatic trauma. J Trauma 71(1):1-5, 2011.