Category Archives: General

Trauma Activation For Hanging: Yes or No?

In my last post, I discussed a little-reviewed topic, that of strangulation. I recommended activating your trauma team only for patients who met the physiologic criteria for it.

But now, what about hangings? There are basically two types. The judicial hanging is something most of you will never see. This is a precisely carried out technique for execution and involves falling a certain height while a professionally fashioned noose arrests the fall. This results in a fairly predictable set of cervical spine/cord, airway, and vascular injuries. Death is rapid.

Suicidal hangings are far different. They involve some type of ligature around the neck, but rarely and fall. This causes slow asphyxiation and death, sometimes. The literature dealing with near hangings is a potpourri of case reports, speculation, and very few actual studies. So once again, we are left with little guidance.

What type of workup should occur? Does the trauma team need to be called? A very busy Level I trauma center reviewed their registry for adult near-hangings over a 19 year period. Hanging was strictly defined as a ligature around the neck with only the body weight for suspension. A total of 125 patients were analyzed, and were grouped into patients presenting with a normal GCS (15), and those who were abnormal (<15).

Here are the factoids:

  • Two thirds of patients presented with normal GCS, and one third were impaired
  • Most occurred at home (64%), and jail hangings occurred in 6%
  • Only 13% actually fell some distance before the ligature tightened
  • If there was no fall, 32% had full weight on the ligature, 28% had no weight on it,  and 40% had partial weight
  • Patients with decreased GCS tended to have full weight on suspension (76%), were much more likely to be intubated prior to arrival (83% vs 0% for GCS 15), had loss of consciousness (77% vs 35%) and had dysphonia and/or dysphagia (30% vs 8%)
  • Other than a ligature mark, physical findings were rare, especially in the normal GCS group. Subq air was found in only 12% and stridor in 18%.
  • No patients had physical findings associated with vascular injury (thrill, bruit)
  • Injuries were only found in 4 patients: 1 cervical spine fracture, 2 vascular injuries, and 1 pneumothorax
  • 10 patients died and 8 suffered permanent disability, all in the low GCS group

Bottom line: It is obvious that patients with normal GCS after attempted hanging are very different from those who are impaired. The authors developed an algorithm based on the initial GCS, which I agree with. Here is what I recommend:

  • Do not activate the trauma team, even for low GCS. This mechanism seldom produces injuries that require any surgical specialist. This is an exception to the usual GCS criterion.
  • The emergency physician should direct the initial diagnosis and management. This includes airway, selection of imaging, and directing disposition. A good physical exam, including auscultation (remember that?) is essential.
  • Patients with normal GCS and minimal neck tenderness or other symptoms do not need imaging of any kind.
  • Patients with abnormal GCS should undergo CT scanning, consisting of a CT angiogram of the neck and brain with soft tissue images of the neck and cervical spine recons.
  • Based on final diagnoses, the patient can be admitted to an appropriate medical service or mental health. In the very rare case of a spine, airway, or vascular injury, the appropriate service can be consulted.

Reference: A case for less workup in near hanging. J Trauma 81(5):925-930, 2016.

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Amaze Your Friends! The “Greasy Blood” Sign

Today, I’m writing about a clinical observation that I’ve not seen documented in the doctor books. Maybe it has and I’ve missed it. You be the judge.

I call this particular observation the “greasy blood” sign. You have probably seen it before in your practice as a trauma professional. It is present when you see blood (usually venous) coming from an extremity puncture wound or laceration. What makes it unique is the presence of what looks like drops of oil floating on the surface of the blood.

Here are some learning points about this “greasy blood” sign:

  • What you are actually seeing is fat from bone marrow issuing from an underlying fracture
  • It is most commonly seen in blunt trauma with an open fracture
  • It generally comes from femur or tib/fib fractures, although I’ve seen it a few times from upper extremity fractures
  • If it is associated with a penetrating injury, it is always a gunshot and typically the underlying fracture is very comminuted

Have you seen this sign in your practice? If so, tweet or comment and share any nuances you’ve experienced.

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Geriatric Week 4: The Medical Orthopaedic Trauma Service

Our population is aging, and falls continue to be a leading cause of injury and morbidity in the elderly. Unfortunately, many elders have significant medical conditions that make them more likely to suffer unfortunate complications from their injuries and the procedures that repair them.

A few hospitals around the world are applying a more multidisciplinary approach than the traditional model. One example is the Medical Orthopaedic Trauma Service (MOTS) at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Any elderly patient who has suffered a fracture is seen in the ED by both an emergency physician and a hospitalist from the MOTS team. Once in the hospital, the hospitalist and orthopaedic surgeon try to determine the reason for the fall, assess for risk factors such as osteoporosis, provide comprehensive medical management, provide pain control, and of course, fix the fracture.

This medical center recently published a paper looking at their success with this model. They retrospectively reviewed 306 patients with femur fractures involving the greater trochanter. They looked at complications, length of stay, readmission rate and post-discharge mortality. No change in length of stay was noted, but there were significantly fewer complications, specifically catheter associated urinary tract infections and arrhythmias. The readmission rate was somewhat shorter in the MOTS group, but did not quite achieve significance with regression analysis.

Bottom line: This type of multidisciplinary approach to these fragile patients makes sense. Hospitalists, especially those with geriatric experience, can have a significant impact on the safety and outcomes of these patients. But even beyond this, all trauma professionals need to look for and correct the reasons for the fall, not just fix the bones and send our elders home. This responsibility starts in the field with prehospital providers, and continues with hospital through the entire inpatient stay.

Reference: The medical orthopaedic service (MOTS): an innovative multidisciplinary team model that decreases in-hospital complications in patients with hip fractures. J Orthopaedic Trauma, 26(6):379-383, 2012.

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Next Week: Trauma In The Elderly

All of next week, I’ll be writing about a topic that is becoming more and more important: geriatric trauma. Our population is aging, and the number of older patients being admitted to trauma centers is exploding.

Here are the topics to be covered:

  • How We Take Care Of Our Elders
  • Thoughts On Geriatric Trauma
  • Elderly Trauma And The Frailty Index
  • The Medical Orthopaedic Trauma Service
  • Falls In The Elderly: The Consequences
  • Effect Of an In-Hospital Falls Prevention Program

And please feel free to leave comments and suggest future topics!

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EAST 2017 #14: Long Term Consequences of Trauma: Why Aren’t We Looking?

I’m adding one more post to my EAST 2017 collection. This one struck me because it dovetails with another one I analyzed last week. After hearing both, something just clicked. The first was “When is mild TBI not so mild”, and opened my eyes to the fact that more TBI patients had ongoing problems than I imagined.

Now I just heard a presentation that looked at long term functional outcomes in patients with ISS > 9 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They identified patients in their trauma registry from 6 and 12 months prior to the study, and called these patients to administer several standard evaluation tools. Of 394 eligible patients, 27% could not be contacted, and 30% declined to participate, leaving 171 subjects. Half were 6 months out from their discharge, and half were a year  out.

The findings were very interesting. Here are the factoids:

  • 23% had a positive PTSD screen at 6 months, but this decreased to 16% at one year
  • A quarter of patients were still living with assistance that they did not need preinjury in both time periods
  • 20% of patients experienced a change in insurance
  • Half of the patients stopped working due to their injury, and this did not improve at one year
  • One in six were readmitted at some point for their injuries
  • The majority used some type of rehabilitation service (inpatient or outpatient) during their recovery

Bottom line: In my mind, this is a very big deal. All trauma centers collect a huge amount of data to monitor how things work while the patient is in the hospital. However, once discharged, they are on their own. We have no idea how they are doing, we have no mechanisms for finding out, and we have no systems in place to help if there are problems.

It is certainly simple enough to schedule a few phone calls at time intervals after discharge. We have tools and screening questions that we can ask. We can even include this information in the trauma registry and trend it. But then what?

This problem reaches beyond the trauma centers. Sure, we can make referrals for PTSD and rehab services. But what about the patient’s job, or their insurance? What if they don’t have insurance coverage or funds for needed services?

I believe that trauma centers should develop these processes and start collecting this information now. But we will also have to work with community and social service resources in order to marshal the services that our patients require. 

Reference: Routine inclusion of long-term functional and patient reported outcomes into trauma registries: can this be done? Paper #34, EAST 2017.

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