All posts by TheTraumaPro

When To Image The Aorta In Blunt Trauma

Blunt injury to the thoracic aorta is one of those potentially devastating ones that you (and your patient) can’t afford to miss. Quite a bit has been written about the findings and mechanisms. But how do you put it all together and decide when to order a screening CT?

There are a number of high risk findings associated with blunt aortic injury. Recognize that they are associated with the injury, but are still not very common. They are:

  • Fractures of the sternum or first rib
  • Wide mediastinum
  • Displacements of mediastinal structures (left mainstem down, trachea right, esophagus right)
  • Loss of the aortopulmonary window
  • Apical cap over the left lung

Here’s a sensible method for screening for blunt aortic injury, using CT scan:

  • Reasonable mechanism (fall from greater than 20 feet, pedestrian struck, motorcycle crash, car crash at “highway speed”) PLUS any one of the high risk findings above.
  • Extreme mechanism alone (e.g. car crash with closing velocity at greater than highway speed, torso crush)

Note on torso crush: I have seen three aortic injuries from torso crush in my career, one from a load of plywood falling onto the patient’s chest, one from dirt crushing someone when the trench they were digging collapsed, and one whose chest was run over by a car.

Related post:

Technology: EEG Monitoring Using A Smartphone App

Remember when EEG monitoring in patients with severe TBI looked like a maze of multicolored spaghetti plugged into a small refrigerator? Well, technology is advancing rapidly and the hardware is shrinking fast.

This EEG monitor uses an EEG headset, which has fewer leads than the old standard. The headset connects to a Nokia smartphone using a wireless connection. And while it can’t compete with a regular EEG on fine detail like localizing seizure foci, it should easily be able to measure something as crude as burst suppression in trauma patients in pentobarb coma.

EEG headset

Expect more advances like this. Computing and monitoring is leaving the realm of the dedicated (and physically large) device, and moving toward handheld monitoring using off-the-shelf hardware like smartphones.

AAST 2011: Predicting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) After Trauma

Today is the last day of the annual AAST meeting, so I’ll wind up with one last abstract presented at this meeting.

PTSD can cause significant morbidity after trauma. Most centers manage this problem reactively, when the patient exhibits obvious symptoms in the hospital or after discharge. Wouldn’t it make more sense to screen for it routinely? Is there a way to figure out which patients are at higher risk?

The University of Pittsburgh prospectively screened 1,386 injured patients presenting to their followup clinic using the PTSD Checklist – Civilian (PCL-C) instrument. A score of>=35 has a sensitivity of 85% and was considered a positive result.

The authors found that more than 25% of their outpatient clinic patients met the threshold. The most common mechanism was assault, both blunt and penetrating. Younger age (<55), female gender and motor vehicle crash were also found to be predictors.

Bottom line: Consider routine PTSD screening in patients with the listed risk factors, just like we perform routine TBI screening in patients with head injuries. The PCL-C is self-administered and takes only about 5 minutes to complete. The most reliable way is to send it home with your patient, with instructions to complete it before they see you or their primary physician in the outpatient clinic.


Reference: Predictors of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following civilian trauma: highest incidence and severity of symptoms after assault. AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Paper 33.