Category Archives: General

Dysphagia and Cervical Spine Injury

Cervical spine injury presents a host of problems, but one of the least appreciated ones is dysphagia. Many clinicians don’t even think of it, but it is a relatively common problem, especially in the elderly. Swallowing difficulties may arise for several reasons:

  • Prevertebral soft tissue swelling may occur with high cervical spine injuries, leading to changes in the architecture of the posterior pharynx
  • Rigid cervical collars, such as the Miami J and Aspen, and halo vests all force the neck into a neutral position. Elderly patients may have a natural kyphosis, and this change in positioning may interfere with swallowing. Try extending your neck by about 30 degrees and see how much more difficult it is to swallow.
  • Patients with cervical fractures more commonly need a tracheostomy for ventilatory support and/or have a head injury, and these are well known culprits in dysphagia

A study in the Jan 2011 Journal of Trauma outlines the dysphagia problem seen with placement of a halo vest. They studied a series of 79 of their patients who were treated with a halo. A full 66% had problems with their swallowing evaluation. This problem was associated with a significantly longer ICU stay and a somewhat longer overall hospital stay.

Bottom line: Suspect dysphagia in all patients with cervical fractures, especially the elderly. Carry out a formal swallowing evaluation, and adjust the collar or halo if appropriate. 

Reference: Swallowing dysfunction in trauma patients with cervical spine fractures treated with halo-vest fixation. J Trauma 70(1):46-50, 2011.

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EAST Evidence Based Review: Distracted Driving

EAST is branching out from one of its core areas, creating trauma practice guidelines. They are now beginning to address other problems using the same techniques for developing their practice guidelines. Instead of generating guidelines for clinical care, they are creating action statements based on the best available literature.

This Distracted Driving review was one of a group of new EBRs was presented last week at the EAST Annual Scientific Assembly. The panel reviewed information from government agencies and studies based on crash databases and simulations. The number of cellphone subscribers has surpassed 250 million, and the number of deaths from distracted driving has followed a similar curve. 

Distracted driving is implicated in 20% of injury crashes and 16% of fatal crashes. Drivers under age 20 has the highest proportion of distracted drivers. 

EAST made three Level II recommendations, which means that they are reasonably justifiable by available scientific evidence and strongly supported by expert opinion. They are:

  • Drivers should minimize all distractions while on the road
  • Cell phone use and texting should not be performed while driving
  • Younger inexperienced drivers should not use cell phones during their probation period (if such a period is mandated by their state)

Future areas of interest will include studying the impact of legislation regarding cell phones and texting, development of crash avoidance systems, and evolving cell phone technologies.

Reference: Evidence Based Review on Distracted Driving, presented at the 2011 EAST Annual Scientific Assembly. Note: this information is preliminary and may be changed prior to publication.

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Distracting Injury and Cervical Spine Clearance

One of the tenets of clinical c-spine clearance is that there be no “distracting injury.” What does this mean exactly? Can the clinician adequately judge which injuries are too distracting?

The Loyola group prospectively looked at 160 patients needing c-spine clearance over a 9 month period. GCS had to be 14 or 15, and the patients were excluded if they were intoxicated or received an analgesic prior to the clearance attempt. A total of 84% had no neck pain, and 82% of those had no peripheral, potentially distracting pain. Patients with perceived distracting pain and those without had very similar Visual Analog Scores (VAS) for pain. 

Overall, the majority of patients and physicians did not believe that distracting pain was present, and when pain was present there was little agreement whether it was distracting. The few patients who did have spine fractures had a VAS for pain >5. The use of physician judgment for distracting pain and clearance worked just fine in this study.

Bottom line: The authors recommend using clinician judgment as to the degree of distracting pain when clearing the c-spine. If you want to be more objective, if the patient complains of a Visual Analog Score for pain of more than 5, then you may want to delay clearance. Note: this is a small study that really needs to be replicated before widespread use.

Reference: C-spine clearance: don’t be distracted – just trust your judgment. Presented at the 24th annual scientific assembly of EAST, Session II, Paper 9. Click here to see the abstract. 

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Using Your ABCs To Predict Massive Transfusion

It’s nice to have blood available early when major trauma patients need it. Unfortunately, it’s not very practical to have several units of O neg pulled for every trauma activation, let alone activate a full-blown massive transfusion protocol (MTP). Is there any way to predict which trauma patient might be in need of enough blood to trigger your MTP?

The Mayo Clinic presented a paper at the EAST Annual Meeting today that looked at several prediction systems and how they fared in predicting the need for massive transfusion. Two of the three systems (TASH – Trauma Associated Severe Hemorrhage, McLaughlin score) are too complicated for practical use. The Assessment of Blood Consumption tool is simple, and it turns out to be quite predictive. 

Here’s how it works. Assess 1 point for each of the following:

  • Heart rate > 120
  • Systolic blood pressure < 90
  • FAST positive
  • Penetrating mechanism

A score >=2 is predictive of massive transfusion. In this small series, the sensitivity of ABC was 89% and the specificity was 85%. The overtriage rate was only 13%.

The investigators were satisfied enough with this tool that it is now being used to activate the massive transfusion protocol at the Mayo Clinic.

Bottom line: ABC is a simple, easy to use and accurate system for activating your massive transfusion protocol, with a low under- and over-triage rate.

Reference: Comparison of massive blood transfusion predictive models: ABC, easy as 1,2,3. Presented at the EAST 24th Annual Scientific Assembly, January 26, 2011, Session I Paper 4. Click here to view the abstract.

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EAST 24th Annual Scientific Assembly

I’m currently attending the EAST annual meeting. I’ll be tweeting about all the interesting papers and events that are presented. In order to make them easy to find, I’ll be using the hashtag #east2011

In addition I’ll also be doing a more in-depth analysis of some of the more interesting abstracts. You can find the abstracts for all the oral presentations here. Feel free to send me requests to talk about the ones you find fascinating!

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