All posts by TheTraumaPro

AAST 2019 #1: Survival Benefit Of Pelvic REBOA

Resuscitative Endovascular Balloon Occlusion of the Aorta (REBOA) is one of the new, shiny toys in the trauma professional’s toy chest. Research papers on the topic are increasing exponentially, but human data was not even published until 2014! This is still a new device and we are trying to learn more about it.

The AAST set up an Aortic Occlusion for Resuscitation in Trauma and Acute Care (acronym is AORTA, ugh!) to help accumulate data for this not-often used technique. Hopefully, compiling comprehensive use and outcome data will speed our appreciation of the usefulness of this device.

A multi-institutional trauma group massaged the AORTA registry to examine the potential benefits of using the technique in patients with pelvic fractures leading to severe blood loss. They specifically looked for patients with the balloon inflated in Zone 3 to decrease bleeding from below the aortic bifurcation. Here’s a diagram of the zones:

The authors identified a total of 109 patients pelvic fractures with bleeding from below the bifurcation.

Here are the factoids:

  • The presenting patients arriving without CPR all had similar base deficit, lactate, and systolic BP. This shows us that the two groups are the same, but only for these three parameters. GCS was lower in the open aortic occlusion group. This could certainly contribute to a higher overall mortality in this group.
  • Overall mortality was significantly lower in the REBOA group that included those arriving with CPR in progress (35% vs 80% for open occlusion)
  • And when CPR patients were excluded, the mortality was significantly lower (33% vs 69%)
  • One in ten patients undergoing REBOA suffered vascular access complications (vascular repair required, limb ischemia, distal embolization, or amputation)
  • Complications among survivors were not different between the groups, nor were hospital or ICU lengths of stay or blood usage

The authors state that their data shows a “clear survival advantage” in those patients who undergo REBOA. Furthermore, this was accomplished without increasing systemic complications. They finally conclude that REBOA should be “strongly considered” for patients in shock due to pelvic trauma.

Not quite so fast here. There are several more factors in play than meet the eye.

First, a study that massages a REBOA database was generally constructed to see if REBOA is beneficial, especially in this time of rapid investigation. And it was performed by institutions who are using it regularly. This could introduce a significant degree of confirmation bias, since we all try to see what we already believe to be true (“REBOA is good”).

The authors are basing this “clear survival advantage” on overall mortality where only a few confounding factors have been controlled for. The GCS wild-card here is a perfect example. It could have considerably contributed to mortality in the open group, making it look bad. Who determined whether REBOA or open technique would be used, and why? This can have a major impact. What other factors might be present that are not even recorded in the database?

It is also stated that this increased survival was accomplished without increasing systemic complications. Perhaps, but that may be true of only the ones examined, or those recorded in the registry. Many may be missing. And what about the 10% incidence of limb issues in the REBOA group? This is a major problem and should not be glossed over. Although the patients that required a vascular repair were reported to do well, the others with ischemia or limb loss obviously did not.

Bottom line: Reading abstracts is like reading scientific papers, only more difficult because information is missing due to length limitations. Look at the title. Look at the conclusions. But don’t believe anything until you can understand every one of the results listed. And be sure to think about all the things that have to be left unsaid because of the size of the abstract! 

Having said all that, I still have to be careful that this doesn’t trigger my own confirmation bias. My take is that REBOA is still an investigational device. We need further comprehensive data to make sure that survival and safety are properly balanced.

Here are some questions for the presenter and authors:

  • The abstract describes the number of cases identified as 109; 84 REBOA and 25 open occlusions of the aorta. This seems to include patients undergoing CPR upon arrival, and these are excluded from some of the statistics. However, I can’t get the mortality percentages to match for the group that supposedly includes CPR patients. For example, the overall REBOA (includes CPR) mortality percentage is 35.17%. Multiplying this by 84 gives 29.5 patients. But multiplying the 33.33% mortality (CPR-excluded group) by 84 yields 28 patients. So are the 109 patients listed in the abstract the CPR-excluded group or not?
  • The open aortic occlusion group had a lower GCS. Did you look at how this might have contributed to the higher observed mortality? Although numbers are already low, is there any way to match for this to clarify the picture?
  • Do you have any information yet on longer term outcomes in the two groups? This will become very important as we come to balance raw survival with quality of life and complications.

Great abstract! I’m looking forward to the presentation, and hopefully more answers!


Coming Up! AAST 2019 Abstract Reviews!

It’s that time of year again. The 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) is only two weeks away! I’ll be selecting a number of interesting abstracts (oral, poster, and perhaps a few quick shots) to review here.

My focus will be on abstracts that offer new information or interesting insights into old problems. I’ll pick them apart, looking at their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, after rendering my opinion of their import, I’ll list a number of questions for the authors or presenter to consider. Who knows, they may be asked some of them at the meeting?!

Enjoy, and feel free to provide your own comments here!

Trocar Chest Tubes Or Blunt Technique? Part 2

In my last post on chest tube insertion technique, I reviewed a paper that compared chest tube insertion complications using two different trocar tips, blunt plastic and sharp metal. The sharp tip tubes caused more complications, although the study was weakened by the fact that the physicians inserting the tubes were complete newbies.

Today, I’ll discuss what the authors call a “best evidence topic” that reviewed the safety of the trocar technique. It is similar to a meta-analysis of available literature that attempts to reach a conclusion regarding this type of tube insertion. A literature search from 1946 to 2013 was conducted seeking to pull all papers on trocar chest tube insertion techniqes. A total of 258 papers were identified, but on closer inspection only 7 were identified that “provided the best evidence to answer the question.”

Here are the factoids from some of these papers:

  • Tube malposition occurred significantly more often in a series of 106 trocar tubes inserted into 75 ICU patients
  • In trocar tubes inserted for trauma, CT showed malplacement in 29% vs 19% with non-trocar tubes [This latter number seems very high to me!]
  • A retrospective study of 1249 patients resulted in the trocar technique being abandoned due to severe lung and stomach injuries
  • Use of trocar technique was associated with a significantly higher incidence of re-expansion pulmonary edema in 92 patients with spontaneous pneumothorax
  • A poorly controlled prospective study showed 23 complications with trocar technique and none with blunt dissection. The denominator could not be determined.

Bottom line: Overall, the literature is just not good enough to answer this question. But it does provide some suggestions.

  • Trocar insertion can be done well in experienced hands. Cardiac surgeons use these all the time, although sometimes they have the benefit of already being in the chest so they can visualize the point of entry and control the tip.
  • Any chest tube insertion can go awry.  It’s very important to learn proper technique, and take care to apply it faithfully, even in emergency situations.
  • If you really like trocars and want to improve insertion safety, start with the blunt dissection technique first, sweep a finger inside the chest to ensure there are no adhesions, then insert the trocar tube to guide it into position. Please note that I do not believe that we can control the tube once the instrument (trocar or clamp) are removed from the chest. And the tube will work fine just about anywhere it ends up (unless that’s the spleen).
  • Newbies should be supervised carefully and learn blunt insertion technique first. Be mindful that it is still possible to pass the insertion clamp into the same structures as a trocar if you are not careful. My practice is to place my fingers about 2 cm from the tip of the clamp as I push it through the pleura. If the pleura gives way more easily than anticipated, by fingers will keep the clamp from going too far into the chest. 
  • Always mark your insertion spot before prepping. This will generally be lateral to the nipple in men, so always prep the nipple into your field as a landmark.
  • Always be careful!

Reference: Is the trocar technique for tube thoracostomy safe in the current era? Interactive CV and thoracic surg 19:125-128, 2014.

Trocar Chest Tubes Or Blunt Technique? Part 1

This is an old question: what is the best way to insert a chest tube? There are several techniques available to us:

  • Blunt dissection and insertion
  • Trocar with a blunt tip (plastic stylet)
  • Trocar with a sharp tip (metal stylet)
  • Seldinger technique for small tubes

Typically, when there are multiple ways to do a thing, then there is no clear choice as to which is better. It then becomes a personal choice, or one driven by the financial considerations of the equipment used, and demonstrates the need for a practice guideline.

There are very few good papers out there that critically compare any of these techniques. Today, I’ll review one cadaver study and tomorrow I’ll tackle one “best evidence” paper that attempt to answer it.

A group in Vienna, Austria performed a cadaver study comparing the use of the two types of trocar tubes:

The top tube is the sharp trocar type, the bottom is the blunt trocar.

The study engaged twenty emergency medicine residents who had little, if any, experience placing chest tubes. Each placed 10 chest tubes (5 of each type) in fresh cadavers after undergoing a one-hour standardized lecture on anatomy, technique, and complications. The authors tabulated insertion times, as well as complication and success rate based on anatomic dissection.

Tube type was randomly assigned for each attempt by each resident. One blunt insertion and one sharp insertion were performed on opposite sides of a cadaver each month for the trainees. Over a period of 5 months, each resident performed 10 total insertions.

Here are the factoids:

  • Mean time to insertion for blunt vs sharp tips was the same, about 60 seconds
  • Insertion time declined by about 20 seconds by the final attempt at 5 months
  • Accurate placement occurred in 94% of blunt tip tubes vs 86% of sharp tip tubes
  • There were significantly more complications with the sharp tip (4 below diaphragm, 5 outside the thorax, 1 in the liver,  and 4 in the spleen) vs the blunt tip (2 below diaphragm, 2 extrathoracic, 2 in the liver, and 2 aborted due to damage to the tube)
  • BMI did not increase complications, but it did increase insertion time significantly

The authors concluded that there is a 6-14% complication rate that is operator related, and that the incidence of complications was increased with the use of a sharp tip tube. They warn against the use of these tubes.

Bottom line: This is certainly an interesting study. The insertion numbers are sort of reasonable, and the use of fresh cadavers is okay. They are not quite as realistic as real living people, but close. The biggest drawback was that they used chest tube newbies, most of whom had never inserted a tube. And they were placed in the unrealistic setting where they had to attend training and watch a video, then insert two tubes per month without coaching or supervision. This is not how we do it in the real world. 

I was impressed with what I consider the high number of complications. I don’t typically see that many, although I work at a blunt dissection institution. However, it does show that any trocar style tube is probably more like a weapon in inexperienced hands. So perhaps, even with supervision, both sharp and blunt trocar types should be avoided in the teaching setting. Sure, blunt dissection may take a bit longer, but the tube is also less likely to end up somewhere it shouldn’t be.

Tomorrow: Review of a “best evidence” review from New York.

Reference: Evaluation of performance of two different chest tubes with either a sharp or a blunt tip for thoracostomy in 100 human cadavers. Scand J Trauma Resus Emerg Med 20:10, 2012.

What Should We Call Them? NOAC vs DOAC

They are the bane of trauma professionals, the anticoagulants that cannot be easily or cheaply reversed. Yes, I’m talking about the direct thrombin inhibitors and the Factor Xa inhibitors. They were originally called NOACs, or novel oral anticoagulants since they were newer than the old standard, warfarin. But they’ve also been listed as DOACs (direct) or TSOACS (target-specific, just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?).

Here’s a nice table I put together recently showing the all the common oral agents available. Click the image for a full-size, more readable image.

Dabigatran was the first of the newer oral agents, and it is the only direct thrombin inhibitor in the group. The rest are Factor Xa inhibitors. This is easy to remember if you look at their generic name. Each will contain “xaban.” Get it? Xa ban.

The daily cost of warfarin is about $7, while the daily cost of the others is around $16 per day. However, that does not take into account the cost of blood work to monitor INR in those taking warfarin, so it’s cost will be higher.

What I found most interesting was the cost of the reversal agents, if any. For warfarin it’s either a hit of 4-factor prothrombin complex concentrate or many bags of plasma. Praxbind for the DTI dabigatran appears to be a bargain! But look at the agent for the Xa inhibitors, Andexxa! Almost $50K per pop!

And what about the asterisk, you ask? That means that there is no literature available that shows that these expensive drugs are clinically effective! But they seem like they should work. Hmm.

Anyway, back to the nomenclature. NOACs or DOACs? Opinion is moving away from NOAC because it can be misinterpreted as “no anticoagulants.” The International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis polled their members, and the consensus opinion was that DOAC should be adopted for common use.  They add that the specific mechanism of action (direct thrombin vs Xa inhibitor) should be specified in addition to the DOAC acronym when clinically relevant.

Bottom line: DOAC wins! So hopefully we can all converge on using one common term for this group of drugs. Yet I still shudder when I have a head injured patient that tells me they are taking any of them!

Reference: Recommendation on the nomenclature for oral anticoagulants: communication from the SSC of the ISTH.  J Thrombosis Haemostasis 13(6):1154-1156, 2015.