All posts by TheTraumaPro

Best Of EAST #9: Routine Repeat Head CT For TBI Patients On Antithrombotic Agents

The data we use as guidance for repeat head CT in elderly patients who sustain mild TBI while taking antithrombotic therapy remains limited. There is a slowly growing consensus that the need is limited, but there is still a very wide variation in practice patterns.

The group at HCA Healthcare Nashville collected data from 24 system hospitals on this very specific cohort of patients: elderly (age > 55), head trauma with GCS 14-15, an initial head CT, and no other injuries with AIS > 2. They divided these patients into two groups based on whether they were currently taking antithrombotic (AT) therapy. Rate of delayed intracranial hemorrhage (ICH), need for neurosurgical intervention, and mortality were compared.

Here are the factoids:

  • About 3,000 patients were enrolled and only 10% had a repeat head CT
  • Of those who were rescanned, 10% of patients on meds had a new ICH vs 6% in those not taking meds (not statistically significant)
  • Extrapolating those numbers to all patients, the rate of delayed ICH would be 0.7% in patients not taking AT vs 1.0% for those who were (also not significant)
  • Mortality attributable to a head bleed occurred in only one patient who was made comfort care
  • There were no neurosurgical procedures performed in either group

The authors concluded that this specific subset of patients has a very low rate of delayed ICH, and that there are minimal clinical consequences in those that do. They do not support repeat head CT.

Bottom line: This abstract adds to the growing body of literature that shows little benefit to repeat head CT scan after a negative initial study, even if the patient is on blood thinners. Many previous studies involve only a single center and/or have smaller numbers. This one is larger because of the size of the HCA trauma system, and answers a simple set of questions on a limited subgroup of patients: elderly, mild TBI, with limited other injuries.

My back of the envelope power calculations show the authors may be a little short of the number of subjects to be able to show that the difference in the number of delayed ICH (0.7% vs 1.0%) is statistically significant. But the numbers are close enough and the p value so large (0.3) that they are probably right. This is completely offset by the absence of necessary neurosurgical interventions and the single attributable death.

Many trauma centers, including my own, have adopted a “no repeat scan” policy after a negative initial scan, even on thinners. In fact, unless the patient has some other injury that requires admission, they are discharged home with a responsible adult.

Here are my questions for the authors and presenter:

  • Did you do any type of power analysis to determine if the large number of patients included was actually large enough?
  • The term “antithrombotic therapy” is used broadly; which agents were considered in this category? Traditional warfarin therapy? Aspirin and other antiplatelet agents? DOACS?
  • Have you changed your system guidelines to reflect your work?

This is important and practical work! I’m looking forward to hearing all the details.

Reference: ROUTINE REPEAT BRAIN CT SCANNING IS UNNECESSARY IN OLDER PATIENTS WITH GCS 14-15 AND A NORMAL INITIAL BRAIN CT SCAN REGARDLESS OF PREINJURY ANTITHROMBOTIC USE: A MULTICENTER STUDY OF 3033 PATIENTS. EAST 35th ASA, oral abstract #31.

Best Of EAST #8: Timing Of Reimaging For BCVI

There are still many questions regarding optimal management of blunt carotid and vertebral arterial injury (BCVI). We know that they may ultimately result in a stroke. And we kind of know how to manage them to try to avoid this. We also know that the grade may change over time, and many vascular surgeons recommend re-imaging at some point.

But when? There are still many questions. A multi-center trial has been collecting observational data on this issue since 2018. The group reviewed three years of data to examine imaging characteristics and stroke rate during the study period.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 739 cases were identified at 16 trauma centers
  • The median number of imaging studies was 2, with a range of 1-9 (!). Two thirds received only one study.
  • Injury grade distribution was as follows:
    • Grade 1 – 42%
    • Grade 2 – 30%
    • Grade 3 – 10%
    • Grade 4 – 18%
    • Grade 5 – <1%
  • About 30% changed in grade during the hospitalization, with 7% increasing and 24% decreasing.
  • Average time to change in grade was 7 days
  • Nearly 75% of those that decreased actually resolved. All of the grade 1 lesions resolved.
  • Stroke tended to occur after about one day after admission, although the grade 1 lesions took longer at 4 days
  • Strokes occurred much earlier than grade change

The authors concluded that there should be further investigation about the utility of serial imaging for stroke prevention.

Bottom line: This is basically a “how we did it” study to tease out data on imaging and stroke after BCVI. It’s clear that there is no consensus across trauma centers regarding if and when repeat imaging is done. And it’s not really possible to make any recommendations about repeat imaging based on this study.

However, it does uncover one important fact. It takes a week for the injury grade on CT to change, but strokes occur much earlier and usually within 24 hours! This is important because it makes it clear that it’s crucial to actually make the diagnosis early. Average stroke occurrence was 9% overall. Grade 1 injuries had only a 3% rate, but grades 2-4 were in the 12-15% range. Grade 5 had a 50% stroke rate!

These facts reinforce the importance of identifying as many of these BCVI as possible during the initial evaluation. The abstract I reviewed yesterday confirmed that the existing screening criteria (Memphis, Denver) will miss too many. More liberal imaging is probably indicated. If you missed the post, click here to view it in a new window.

Here are my comments for the authors and presenter:

  • The “change in BCVI grade over time” charts in the abstract are not readable. Please provide clear images during your presentation and explain what they mean. I was confused!
  • Based on your data, do you have any recommendations regarding the utility of re-imaging? Is it necessary in the same hospitalization at all? These patients will receive treatment anyway, and it doesn’t appear to have any impact on stroke rate.
  • Do you have any recommendations regarding the (f)utility of existing screening systems given the early occurrences of stroke in the study? Are you a fan of using energy / mechanism rather than a bullet list of criteria?

This is important work and I can’t wait to look at the data up close.

Reference: BLUNT CEREBROVASCULAR INJURIES: TIMING OF CHANGES TO INJURY GRADE AND STROKE FORMATION ON SERIAL IMAGING FROM AN EAST MULTI-INSTITUTIONAL TRIAL. EAST 35th ASA, oral abstract #34.

Best Of EAST #7: Routine Screening vs Denver Criteria For BCVI

Currently, blunt carotid and vertebral artery injury (BCVI) is diagnosed using CT angiography of the great vessels and neck. This study is typically ordered when there is some degree of clinical suspicion based on the application of an established screening system. There are currently two such systems in use, Denver and Memphis.

I dedicated a week to BCVI earlier in the year. If you’d like to read the series, click here.

Both screening systems have been updated over the years. There is now a modified Memphis and an expanded Denver system. The reason for the modifications is simple: some patients were not flagged as at risk by the original versions of the systems. Does this mean we should screen more, or even screen everybody?

To answer this question, it’s important to have an idea of the number of patients who actually sustain the injury. This means having a liberal screening policy in place in the first place. The trauma group at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis liberalized their criteria in 2012 and first published their experience in 2015. In this abstract, they examined their experience in screening all high-energy patients and reviewing how many patients would have been screened using the expanded Denver criteria.

Here are the factoids:

  • This is a single-center, retrospective study carried out over 5.5 years
  • A total of about 17,000 blunt trauma patients were seen, and about 30% underwent CTA neck for BCVI screening
  • About 1% of total patients screened were found to have BCVI, which was about 3% of those who underwent CTA
  • Sixteen percent of patients who actually had BCVI did NOT meet any of the expanded Denver criteria
  • Ten percent of patients with grades III-V injury did not meet any of the criteria

The authors concluded that using the expanded Denver criteria alone will result in missed injuries and that liberalized screen should be considered to decrease risk.

Bottom line: Once again, this is a paper that conforms to my own bias and experience, so I have to work to be critical of it. We have seen delayed diagnoses of this injury at our center using the standard criteria. For that reason, we recently implemented a guideline to add CTA neck on any patient with a mechanism sufficient to warrant CTA chest (we are not automatic pan-scanners).

This is a straightforward descriptive study at a center that has had a liberal BCVI screening guideline for nearly a decade. The only opportunity for bias lies in the specifics of the screening criteria. In St. Vincent’s case, it is simple: any patient with a mechanism sufficient to require CT cervical spine or chest received CTA neck as well.

I would argue that this might be a bit too liberal. There are many elderly patients who fall that require cervical spine CT, but the mechanism should be insufficient to sustain a BCVI. It can be an add-on study if fracture patterns are seen that fall within the Denver or Memphis criteria.

Here are my questions for the authors and presenter:

  • Why choose the Denver criteria? Why not look at Memphis, too? I’m sure you will find similar issues.
  • Did you analyze your elderly falls patients who got their CTA based on your cervical CT criterion? It seems like this could result in substantial overtriage. Did you actually detect any BCVI in this group if they didn’t have one of the classic fracture patterns?

This is an important abstract, and I’m looking forward to hearing all the specifics! It looks like it may be time to seriously consider the energy of the mechanism, if not ditch the criteria altogether.

Reference: ROUTINE CT SCREENING FOR BLUNT CEREBROVASCULAR INJURY IDENTIFIES INJURIES MISSED BY CLINICAL RISK FACTORS. EAST 35th ASA, oral abstract #35.

Best Of EAST #6: How Long Does Risk For VTE Last After Spine Fracture?

Most trauma centers use an existing venous thromboembolism (VTE) guideline or have developed their own injury-specific one. These include risk factors, contraindications, specific agent, and dosing recommendations. But one thing most do not include is duration of prophylaxis!

The length of time a patient is at risk for VTE is not well delineated yet. The group at the University of Arizona decided to tackle this program using the National Readmission Database. This dataset is a comprehensive resource for critically analyzing patients who are discharged and readmitted, even for multiple occurrences. It covers 30 states and almost two thirds of the population.

The authors focused on VTE occurring during the first six months after injury. Patients who died on the initial admission, were taking anticoagulants, had spinal surgery, or sustained a spinal cord injury were excluded. Over 41,000 records from the year 2017 met these criteria.

Here are the factoids:

  • The average age was 61, which shows the skew toward the elderly with these injuries
  • Spine areas injured were cervical in 20%, thoracic in 19%, lumbar in 29%, sacrococcygeal in 11%, and multiple levels in 21%.
  • During the initial admission, 1.5% developed VTE: 0.9% were DVT and 0.7% were PE
  • Within 1 month of discharge, 0.6% of patients were readmitted for VTE: 0.4% DVT and 0.3% PE
  • In the first 6 months, 1.2% had been readmitted: 0.9% DVT and 0.6% PE
  • Mortality in the first 6 months was 6.7%
  • Factors associated with readmission for VTE included older age, discharge to a skilled nursing facility, rehab center, or care facility

The authors concluded that VTE risk remains high up to 6 months after conservatively managed spinal fractures. They recommend further study to determine the ideal prophylactic agent and duration.

Bottom line: This is a creative way of examining a difficult problem. We know that VTE risk does not stop when our patient is discharged. This is one of the few ways to get a sense of readmissions, even if it is not to the same hospital. And remember, this is an underestimate because it’s possible for a patient living near a state border to be re-hospitalized in a state not in this database.

This study might prompt us to prescribe up to six months of prophylaxis, particularly in seniors who are discharged to other care facilities.

Here are my questions for the author and presenter:

  • Is there any way to extrapolate your data to the entire population of the US, or to compensate for the “readmission over state lines” problem?
  • Is the odds ratio of 1.01 for risk of VTE in the elderly age group significant in any way? It seems like a very low number that would be easily overwhelmed by the “noise” in this data set.
  • Is the mortality number for all causes, or just VTE?

This is an intriguing study, and one that should influence the VTE guidelines in place at many trauma centers!

Reference: THE LONG-TERM RISKS OF VENOUS THROMBOEMBOLISM AFTER NON-OPERATIVELY MANAGED SPINAL FRACTURE. EAST 35th ASA, oral abstract #28.

Best Of EAST #5: Ultrasound vs Chest X-Ray After Chest Tube Removal

The chest is one of the most commonly injured body regions. Patients are frequently found to have either air or blood in the chest, and many require a chest tube (tube thoracostomy) for these conditions. There is an art to chest tube removal, and even in 2021, the best practice has not been fully worked out.

Some believe that pulling the tube during a breath hold is best. Others do this during full expiration. Most centers confirm an uneventful tube removal with a plain chest x-ray. But the time interval after removal varies considerably.

The trauma group at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga examined the use of chest ultrasound as the confirmatory test for residual pneumothorax after removing a chest tube. They developed an institutional practice guideline requiring a trans-thoracic ultrasound performed by a first-year resident two hours after tube removal. The interns all completed a 30-minute standard ultrasound course for training prior to beginning the study.

Two hours after tube removal, an intern performed the ultrasound (US) and interpreted it. A chest x-ray (CXR) was then ordered and the results compared.

Here are the factoids:

  • A retrospective review of 46 patients was performed, but the inclusion criteria were not listed in the abstract
  • Eleven of the 46 (24%) had a residual pneumothorax on CXR, and the US detected it in 12 (26%)
  • Three patients had PTX on CXR, but not US
  • Four patients had PTX on US, but not CXR
  • None of the PTX were clinically significant, and none required tube reinsertion
  • Cost of care savings was projected to be $4,000 if chest x-ray was not needed

The authors concluded that bedside ultrasound was an acceptable alternative to chest x-ray, with decreased radiation exposure and cost.

Bottom line: This is an intriguing abstract. It shows us that there might be an alternative to the standard chest x-ray confirmation after chest tube removal. It’s a very small study, so non-inferiority can’t truly be established yet. The studies are complementary since each study misses a few pneumothoraces that the other picks up.

At this point, I wouldn’t recommend switching entirely to ultrasound until we have a larger series. But I bet we will be able to in the future. Ultimately, this could reduce radiation exposure (tiny anyway for a chest x-ray) and save a small amount of money. But it will reduce x-ray department resource usage, which may be very helpful for the hospital.

Here are my questions for the authors and presenter:

  • How did you select your patients? What were the selection criteria? How long did it take to accrue 46 patients? It’s important that all patients with a chest tube had the criteria applied, otherwise there is an opportunity for bias. We want to make sure that you didn’t inadvertently enroll only the patients for whom ultrasound works well.
  • How much of a burden was placed on the interns who did the exam? Was the ultrasound unit nearby? Or did they have to spend 30 valuable minutes rolling it to the floor and doing the study? Radiology department resource use needs to be balanced with intern resource utilization.
  • Why did you have such a high rate of residual pneumothorax after the tubes were pulled (about 25%). This seems a bit higher than what the literature reports.
  • What does your protocol require when a residual pneumothorax is found? Do you have to perform another study after an additional time interval to prove that it is not getting larger? Serial ultrasound exams? Another chest x-ray? Please show us your entire guideline.

I really enjoyed this paper. I’m looking forward to hearing the nitty gritty details during the presentation.

Reference: ULTRASOUND SAFELY REPLACES CHEST RADIOGRAPH AFTER TUBE THORACOSTOMY REMOVAL IN TRAUMA PATIENTS. EAST 25th ASA, oral abstract #9.