Trauma professionals routinely worry about the thoracic aorta when evaluating adults after major blunt trauma. The question is, how much do we have to worry about blunt thoracic aortic injury in children?
Younger children are more elastic, and their organs tend to withstand more punishment than adults. After reviewing the literature, I’ve come to the conclusion that this injury is very rare in children in the single digit age range. It’s difficult to find a good paper that addresses this question. The majority include kids up to age 16 or 18, which really skews the results. These patients are most commonly involved in motor vehicle crashes, although a significant number are also pedestrians struck by cars.
The National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) was queried for all children <18 years old sustaining blunt injury with at least 1 diagnosis code. There were nearly 27,000 records matching these criteria. Of these, only 34 had an injury to the thoracic aorta. And in the age range under 10, there were only 2! Both of these children were in very high energy car crashes.
The bottom line: Injury to the thoracic aorta practically never happens in children in the single digit age range. As they get closer to adolescence, they behave more like adults and become more susceptible. The diagnosis should be only be entertained in small children who are involved in very high-energy car crashes. Falls from the usual heights (2-3 stories) are probably not significant enough to cause it. A chest xray may show a full mediastinum, but this will most likely be due to a normal thymus. If investigation is warranted, the standard is to obtain a helical CT of the chest. This study would most likely be obtained anyway to evaluate the torso in a high-energy mechanism. Aortorgraphy is no longer used.
Reference: Trooskin, et al. Risk factors for blunt thoracic injury in children. J Pediatric Surg 40(1):98, 2005.