All posts by TheTraumaPro

Conservative Management Of Pancreatic Injury

There has been a slow shift toward nonoperative management of many injuries that used to demand a quick trip to the operating room. Liver and spleen injury is one of the best examples, with extremely good success rates (95%). Kidneys fall into this category, too.

The pancreas is another solid organ. Perhaps we can do the same thing? A number of pediatric surgeons have been attempting to manage children with pancreatic injury. Low grade injuries (principally contusions) have been managed expectantly for some time. Could higher grade injuries (duct injury) be managed this way as well? How about using repeat imaging, percutaneous drainage, stenting via ERCP, and TPN to avoid the OR in hemodynamically stable kids?

A recent paper looks at this practice critically. Nine years of registry data at two Level I pediatric centers was reviewed to identify all high grade (III-IV) pancreatic injuries. They isolated 39 children with this injury (which is quite a few!). They were separated into two groups based on initial management plan, operative (15) or nonoperative (24). Here are the results of interest (all statistically significant):

  • Average ISS was higher in the nonop group (23 vs 15)
  • Hospital length of stay was longer in the nonop group (28 vs 15 days)
  • TPN was required for a longer period in the nonop group (22 vs 8 days)
  • There were more complications in the nonop group (17 vs 4 children), with 13 developing a pseudocyst (none in the op group)

Bottom line: Nonoperative management of high grade pancreatic injury in kids is just not ready for prime time. It may seem that avoiding a big abdominal operation would be a good thing. Distal pancreatectomy usually keeps children in the hospital for 5-7 days, and then they are done unless they have other serious injuries. Nonoperative management results in a lengthy stay in the hospital, multiple imaging studies (radiation), getting stuck with big drainage needles, and TPN with its attendant infection risks. The old fashioned way, going to the OR, is still the best!

Related post:

Reference: Non-operative management of high-grade pancreatic trauma: is it worth it? J Ped Surg 48:1060-1064, 2013.

Coming Technology: Stop Abdominal Bleeding With Foam

Foam is used for everything. Firefighting. Impact resistance. Law enforcement. Now a company working with DARPA has developed a foam to slow intra-abdominal bleeding until the patient can get to a definitive care hospital. This concept has been used successfully in pigs and slows uncontrolled liver hemorrhage, increasing survival from 7% to 72%.

It is hoped that the foam can be used in the battlefield, and is simple enough to be administered by a combat medic. A small plastic trochar is introduced into the abdominal cavity and two liquids are injected, like epoxy. They react and fill the abdomen with foam, which slows active bleeding. 

Like so many military innovations, this may ultimately work its way down to urban EMS units for use in penetrating trauma. Keep an eye on this interesting technology.

Why Do We Always Make Our Patients NPO?

“Feed a fever, starve a… trauma patient?”

Maybe it’s just my hospital. But I suspect it happens at yours, too. It always seems that when a trauma patient is admitted, someone is trying to starve them. The default diet order seems to be “nil per os” (NPO). But why?

Let’s say a patient with a blunt injury to the spleen is admitted to the trauma center. They have stable vital signs, so they’re started on a nonoperative management protocol. Nonoperative. So why not let them eat? More than 95 out of 100 are not going to the operating room.

But they might, you say. Well first of all, they are even less likely to fail in the next 6 hours (the time interval US anesthesiologists like to use, but that’s another post). So their stomach will be reasonably empty if they do manage to need an operation. And I would say that anesthesiologists at trauma centers are experts at putting people with full stomachs to sleep. It seems that every trauma patient that I CT scan has just eaten.

What about a patient with a stab to the abdomen that doesn’t look like it fully penetrated, but you want to observe them for 12 hours or more? NPO. But what’s the point? Once again, they might need to go to the OR, right? Well, if they actually do have an injury, I want them to show me sooner rather than later. I want to stress them. I want symptoms if they have a hole in their intestine. So I let them eat.

Bottom line: The default diet in nearly any trauma patient should be “regular.” The exceptions are patients who have just come out of abdominal surgery, and those who are known to be going to OR for any reason in the next 6 hours or so. Patients who are postop from non-abdominal surgery can resume their regular diet as soon as they feel up to it. And children should almost never be made NPO unless they are definitely scheduled for surgery. They (and their parents) don’t tolerate it too well.