All posts by TheTraumaPro

Retained Hemothorax Part 1: Lytics

Hemothorax is a common complication of chest trauma, occurring in about one third of cases. It is commonly treated with a chest tube, which usually takes care of the problem. But in a few cases some blood remains, which can result in an entrapped lung or empyema.

There are several management options. Historically, these patients underwent thoracotomy to peel out the fibrinous collection stuck to lung and chest wall. This has given way to the more humane VATS procedure (video assisted thoracoscopic surgery) which accomplishes the same thing using a scope. In some cases, another tube can be inserted, sometimes under CT guidance, to try to drain the blood.

So what about lytics? It’s fibrin, right? So why not just dissolve it with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA)? There have been very few studies published over the years. The most recent was in 2014. I’ll review it today, and another tomorrow. Finally, I’ll give you my thoughts on the best way to deal with retained hemothorax.

Here are the factoids:

  • This was a single center, retrospective review of data from 1.5 years beginning in 2009
  • A total of seven patients were identified, and most had hemothorax due to rib fractures. Three presented immediately after their injury, 4 were delayed.
  • Median time from injury to chest tube placement was 11 days
  • Median time the chest tube was in place was 13 days, with an average hospital stay of 14 days
  • Patients received 1 to 5 treatments, averaging 24mg per dose
  • There was one death in the group, unrelated to TPA treatment
  • No patient “required” VATS, but one underwent thoracotomy, which turned out to be for a malignancy

Bottom line: The authors conclude that tPA use for busting retained hemothorax is both safe and effective. Really? With only seven patients? The biggest problem with this study is that it uses old, retrospective data. We have no idea why these patients were selected for tPA in this 5-year old cohort of patients. Why did it take so long to put in chest tubes? Why did the chest tubes stay in so long? Maybe this is why they were in the hospital so long?

Plus, tPA is expensive. A 100mg vial runs about $6000. Does repeatedly using an expensive drug and keeping a patient in the hospital an extra week or so make financial sense? So it better work damn well, and this small series doesn’t demonstrate that.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the next most recent paper on the topic, from way back in 2004.

Reference: Evaluation of chest tube administration of tissue plasminogen activator to treat retained hemothorax. Am J Surg 267(6):960-963, 2014.

Practice Guideline: Chest Tube Management (Part 2)

Yesterday, I went over the rationale for developing a practice guideline for something as simple and lowly as chest tube management. Today, I’m posting the details of the guideline that’t been in use at my hospital for the past 15 years. I’ve updated it to reflect two lessons learned from actually using it.

Here’s an image of the practice guideline. Click to open a full-size copy in a new window:

Here are some key points:

  • Note the decision tree format. This eliminates uncertainty so that the clinician can stick to the script. There are no hedge words like “consider” used. Just real verbs.
  • We found that hospital length of stay improved when we changed the three parameters from daily monitoring to three consecutive shifts. We are prepared to pull the tube on any shift, not just during the day time. And it also allows this part of the guideline to be nursing driven. They remind the surgeons that criteria are met so we can immediately remove the tube.
  • Water seal is only used if there was an air leak at some point. This allows us to detect a slow ongoing leak that may not be present during our brief inspection of the system on rounds.
  • The American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma expects trauma centers to monitor compliance with at least some of their guidelines. This one makes it easy for a PI nurse or other personnel to do so.
  • The first of the “new” parts of this guideline is: putting a 7 day cap on failure due to tube output greater than 150cc per three shifts. At that point, the infectious risks of keeping a tube in begin to outweigh its efficacy. Typically, a small effusion may appear the day following removal, then resolves shortly.
  • The second “new” part is moving to VATS early if it is clear that there is visible hemothorax that is not being drained by the system. Some centers may want to try irrigation or lytics, but the data for this is not great. I’ll republish my posts on this over the next two days.

Click here to download a copy of this practice guideline for adults.

Click here to download the pediatric chest tube practice guideline.

Practice Guideline: Chest Tube Management (Part 1)

Management of chest tubes is one of those clinical situations that are just perfect for practice guideline development: commonly encountered, with lots of variability between trauma professionals. There are lots of potential areas for variation:

  • How long should the tube stay in?
  • What criteria should be used to determine when to pull it?
  • Water seal or no?
  • When should followup x-rays be done?

Every one of these questions will have a very real impact on that patient’s length of stay and potential for complications.

We developed a chest tube clinical practice guideline (CPG) at Regions Hospital way back in 2004! Of course, there was little literature available to guide us in answering the questions listed above. So we had to use the clinical experience and judgment of the trauma faculty to settle on a protocol that all were comfortable with.

Ultimately, we answered the questions like this:

  • The tube stays in until three specific criteria are met
  • The criteria are: <150 cc drainage over 3 shifts, no air leak, and no residual pneumothorax (or at least a small, stable one)
  • Use of water seal is predicated on whether there was ever an air leak
  • An x-ray is obtained to determine whether any significant pneumo- or hemothorax is present prior to pulling the tube, and 6 hours after pulling it

This CPG has been in effect for over 15 years with excellent results and dramatically shortened lengths of stay.  However, as with any good practice guideline, it needs occasional updates to stay abreast of new research literature or clinical experiences. We recognized that occasional patients had excessive drainage for an extended period of time. This led us to limit the length of time the tube was in to seven days. And we also noted that a few patients had visible hemothorax on their pre-pull imaging. These patients were very likely to return with clinical symptoms of lung entrapment, so we added a decision point to consider VATS at the end of the protocol.

I’ll share the full protocol tomorrow and provide a downloadable copy that you can modify for your own center. I’ll also give a little more commentary on the rationale for the key decision points in this CPG.

Related posts:

The Lead Gown Pull-Up: Part 3!

Okay, I’ve written about the lead gown pull-up several times.  Here’s how it goes:

I wrote in some detail about when this is necessary for thyroid and thymus protection and how much radiation exposure the trauma team actually gets.

But recently I’ve noticed some members of my own trauma team failing to wear the lead aprons, AND leaving the room when x-rays are taken!

Here’s the thing. Yes, it is important to shield yourself when working in proximity to the x-ray machine when in use. But no, leaving the room is not an acceptable way of accomplishing this! The patient is relatively less attended, and by definition less gets done while several of the team members are outside the room waiting for x-the ray tech to shoot.

Here’s my solution: I make a special announcement as part of the team pre-briefing (before patient arrival) that the lead gown is part of their personal protective equipment (PPE). It is also expected that everybody wears appropriate shielding. We already have a rule that every member of the trauma team MUST wear PPEs or they can’t enter the resuscitation room. And I follow it up by announcing my new rule: if anyone leaves the room because they don’t have proper PPEs, they will not be allowed back in the room. 

Works like a charm!

Related post:

Calcitonin Nasal Spray And Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a major risk factor for fractures in our elderly patients, particularly postmenopausal females. A number of treatment modalities have been introduced, primarily medications. One of the less expensive of these is salmon calcitonin nasal spray. This drug has been used sporadically in the spine surgery community and I’ve always been curious about the supporting data. So I finally looked into it and wanted to share my findings.

The earliest research that most tend to hang their hat on is the Prevent Recurrence of Osteoporotic Fractures (PROOF),  a five-year study from the early 90’s published in 2000. It was a double-blind placebo controlled study involving 47 centers in the US and UK. All subjects received supplemental calcium and Vitamin D daily. They also received one of three different doses of nasal calcitonin or a placebo daily.

Completion rates were dreadful. A total of 1,255 women with established osteoporosis started the study. Only 783 made it to 3 years and 511 to 5 years. Partly, this was due to the fact that the patients’ repeat bone density results were unblinded to the investigators, and the “statistically significant” increase in this value was only about 1.5%. I don’t believe that this is even close to clinically significant. Thus, the investigators and patients may have seen this as ineffective, dropped out of the study, and switched to some newer treatment.

As I mentioned, the study used a placebo dose of nasal spray, as well as 100, 200, or 400 unit doses daily. It is puzzling that only the 200 unit dose showed any statistically significant decline in recurrent spine fracture rate. Since the numbers in each analysis group were low due to patient attrition (about 275 in each group), this raises the question of whether this is a statistical anomaly. One would expect to see some sort of dose-response curve, not just a result only for the middle of the road dose.

The authors concluded that the 200 unit dose significantly reduces the risk of new vertebral fractures in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. And unfortunately, multiple authors and clinicians have taken this to heart without questioning the real results in the paper.

A newer study, Oral Calcitonin in Postmenopausal Osteoporosis (ORACAL), published in 2012, compared oral vs nasal calcitonin in 565 women. Their endpoints were changes in bone density and markers of bone turnover. The oral group had a whopping increase (haha) in lumbar bone density of 1.5%, while nasal and placebo dosing were the same at about 0.5-0.8%. This is in no way clinically significant. And paradoxically this bone density increase appeared to peak by week 24 and then slowly decline.

Similarly, bone turnover markers decreased. Interestingly, of the three markers measured, some were statistically significant for oral, nasal, and even placebo. There was no consistent pattern. And furthermore, there is no way to translate these lab tests into risk for fracture.

Bottom line: Although nasal calcitonin spray is cheap (about $1 per day), there is no valid literature that supports that it decreases the risk of future vertebral fractures. Always remember that there is a difference between what is significant to the statisticians, and what is clinically significant to your patient. Incidentally, between 10% and 40% of these patients had adverse effects from the medication, usually GI in nature. So if a drug has a measurable risk but little actual benefit, is it worth even a buck?

Osteoporosis takes decades to develop and become clinically significant. It is unlikely that a quick fix like a drug, sprayed, swallowed, or injected will make a difference in the short term. The best treatments are free (diet and exercise) but must be adopted long before it becomes a problem.

References:

  1. A randomized trial of nasal spray salmon calcitonin in postmenopausal women with established osteoporosis: the prevent recurrence of osteoporotic fractures study. Am J Med 109(4):267-276, 2000.
  2. A phase 3 trial of the efficacy and safety of oral recombinant calcitonin: The oral calcitonin in postmenopausal osteoporosis (ORACAL) trial. J Bone Mineral Res 27(8):1821-1829, 2012.