All posts by TheTraumaPro

Gunshots And CT Scan Of The Abdomen

Abdominal gunshots and CT scanning are usually thought to be mutually exclusive. The usual algorithm generally means a prompt trip to the operating room. But as with many things in the management of trauma, there are always exceptions. The key is to understand when exactly one of those exceptions is warranted.

Exception 1: Did it really enter the abdomen? Gunshots have enough energy that they usually do get inside. However, freaky combinations of trajectory and body habitus do occur. There are three tests that must be passed in order to entertain the possibility that the bullet may not have made it inside your patient: physiology, anatomy, and physical exam. For physiology, the patient must be completely hemodynamically stable. Anatomically, the trajectory must make sense. If the known wounds and angles allow a tangential course make sense, then fine. But if there is a hole in the epigastrium and another next to the spine, you have to assume the bullet went straight through. Finally, the physical exam must be normal. No peritonitis. No generalized guarding. Focal tenderness only in the immediate area of any wounds. If all three of these criteria are passed, then a CT can be obtained to demonstrate the trajectory.

Exception 2: Did it enter an unimportant area of the abdomen? Well, there’s really only one of these, and that’s the area involving the right lobe of the liver and extending posteriorly and lateral to it. If the bullet hole(s) involve only this area, and the three tests above are passed, CT may confirm an injury that can be observed. However, there should only be a minimal amount of free fluid, and no soft tissue changes of any kind adjacent to bowel.

Exception 3: A prompt trauma lap was performed, but you think you need more information afterwards. This is rare. The usual belief is that the eyes of the surgeon provide the gold standard evaluation during a trauma lap. For most low velocity injuries with an easily understood trajectory, this is probably true. However, high velocity injuries, those involving multiple projectiles, or complicated trajectories (side to side) can be challenging for even the most experienced surgeon. Some areas (think retroperitoneum or deep in the pelvis) are tough to visualize completely, especially when there’s blood everywhere. These are also the cases most likely to require damage control surgery, so once the patient has been temporarily closed, warmed and resuscitated, a quick trip to CT may be helful in revealing unexpected shrapnel, unsuspected injuries, or other issues that may change your management. Even a completely unsurprising scan can provide a higher sense of security.

Bottom line: CT of the abdomen and gunshots to that area may actually coexist in some special cases. Make sure the physiology, anatomy and physical exam criteria are passed first. I also make a point of announcing to all trainees that taking these patients to CT is not the norm, and carefully explain the rationale. Finally, apply the concept of the null hypothesis to this situation. Your null hypothesis should state that your patient does not need a CT after gunshot to the abdomen, and you have to work to prove otherwise!

More On DVT In Children

Deep venous thrombosis has been a problem in adult trauma patients for some time. Turns out, it’s a problem in injured children as well although much less common (<1%). However, the subset of kids admitted to the ICU for trauma have a much higher rate if not given prophylaxis (approx. 6%). Most trauma centers have protocols for chemical prophylaxis of adult patients, but not many have similar protocols for children.

The Medical College of Wisconsin looked at trends prior to and after implementation of a DVT protocol for patients < 19 years old. They used the following protocol to assess risk in patients admitted to the PICU and to determine what type of prophylaxis was warranted:

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The need for and type of prophylaxis was balanced against the risk for significant bleeding, and this was accounted for in the protocol. The following significant findings were noted:

  • The overall incidence of DVT decreased significantly (65%) after the protocol was introduced, from 5.2% to 1.8%
  • The 1.8% incidence after protocol use is still higher than most other non-trauma pediatric populations 
  • After the protocol was used, all DVT was detected via screening. Suspicion based on clinical findings (edema, pain) only occurred pre-implementation.
  • Use of the protocol did not increase use of anticoagulation, it standardized management in pediatric patients

Bottom line: DVT does occur in injured children, particularly in severely injured ones who require admission to the ICU. Implementation of a regimented system of monitoring and prophylaxis decreases the overall DVT rate and standardizes care in this group of patients. This is another example of how the use of a well thought out protocol can benefit our patients and provide a more uniform way of managing them.

Related posts:

Reference: Effectiveness of clinical guidelines for deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis in reducing the incidence of venous thromboembolism in critically ill children after trauma. J Trauma 72(5):1292-1297, 2012.

DVT In Children: How Old Is Old Enough?

Adult trauma patients are at risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE). Children seem not to be. The big question is, when do children become adults? Or, at what age do we need to think about screening and providing prophylaxis to kids? As of yet, there are no national guidelines for dealing with DVT in children.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins went to the NTDB to try to answer this question. They looked at the records of over 400,000 trauma patients aged 21 or less who were admitted to the hospital. 

Here are the interesting factoids:

  • Only 1,655 patients (0.4%) had VTE (1,249 DVT, 332 PE, 74 DVT+PE)
  • VTE patients were older, male, and frequently obese
  • VTE patients were more severely injured, with higher ISS and lower GCS
  • Patients with VTE were more likely to be intubated and receive blood transfusions, and had longer hospital and ICU stays

The risk of VTE stratified by age was as follows:

Bottom line: Risk of VTE in pediatric trauma patients follows the usual injury severity pattern. But it also demonstrates a predictable age distribution. Risk increases as the teen years begin (13), and rapidly becomes adult-like at age 16. Begin your standard surveillance practices on all 16 year olds, and consider it in 13+ year olds if their injury severity warrants.

Related post:

Reference: Venous thromboembolism after trauma: when do children become adults. JAMA Surgery online first October 31, 2013.

Hypothermia For Treatment of Severe TBI?

We’ve been trying to figure out therapeutic hypothermia for a long time. Although we know that accidental hypothermia, especially in trauma patients, is not a good thing, it seems to be protective in certain circumstances. The most significant areas of interest center around the neuroprotective effects, especially after ischemia or hypoxia.

But with the good always comes the bad. Every intervention has side effects, and hypothermia is no exception. Decreased cardiac efficiency, blood viscosity increases, pulmonary dysfunction or edema, coagulopathy, decreased tissue oxygen availability, and changes in drug pharmacodynamics are but a few of the problems that may arise. But as long as the benefits outweigh the risks, such an intervention may be acceptable.

We’ve been looking at the possible protective effects of hypothermia on the brain after severe head injury for quite some time. As with most neurotrauma studies, hypothermia ones are tough to do well. Patient selection, adequate numbers of subjects and good randomization and/or blinding are very difficult. It requires assembling all the relevant studies and scrutinizing this whole body of work to figure out if it works or not.

And the answer is, it doesn’t. The Cochrane Library updated their previous work in this area in 2009. They combined 23 studies and over 1600 patients to try to determine if hypothermia (35C for at least 12 hours) is protective in patients with severe TBI. After whittling the field down to good quality studies, they found that there may be a trend toward fewer unfavorable outcomes (death, severe disability, vegetative state), but it was not statistically significant. There were variable results with respect to the incidence of pneumonia after hypothermia, and these, too, did not meet statistical significance.

Bottom line: Therapeutic hypothermia for treatment of severe TBI is still not ready for prime time, and may never be. The studies thus far are small and flawed. Don’t implement your own protocol for this technique unless you are involved in a very high quality, multi-center study that will add to the literature!

Reference: Hypothermia for traumatic head injury. The Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 4.

Dysphagia and Cervical Spine Injury

Cervical spine injury presents a host of problems, but one of the least appreciated ones is dysphagia. Many clinicians don’t even think of it, but it is a relatively common problem, especially in the elderly. Swallowing difficulties may arise for several reasons:

  • Prevertebral soft tissue swelling may occur with high cervical spine injuries, leading to changes in the architecture of the posterior pharynx
  • Rigid cervical collars, such as the Miami J and Aspen, and halo vests all force the neck into a neutral position. Elderly patients may have a natural kyphosis, and this change in positioning may interfere with swallowing. Try extending your neck by about 30 degrees and see how much more difficult it is to swallow.
  • Patients with cervical fractures more commonly need a tracheostomy for ventilatory support and/or have a head injury, and these are well known culprits in dysphagia

A study in the Jan 2011 Journal of Trauma outlines the dysphagia problem seen with placement of a halo vest. They studied a series of 79 of their patients who were treated with a halo. A full 66% had problems with their swallowing evaluation. This problem was associated with a significantly longer ICU stay and a somewhat longer overall hospital stay.

Bottom line: Suspect dysphagia in all patients with cervical fractures, especially the elderly. Carry out a formal swallowing evaluation, and adjust the collar or halo if appropriate. 

Reference: Swallowing dysfunction in trauma patients with cervical spine fractures treated with halo-vest fixation. J Trauma 70(1):46-50, 2011.