Tag Archives: abdomen

Sonography In Place of CT For Pediatric Abdominal Trauma

Pediatric blunt abdominal trauma is not common, but if present it has the potential to cause significant morbidity or mortality. Evaluation of the abdomen at the trauma center is crucial, and most trauma professionals are aware of the trade-offs in the use of CT scan in children (radiation exposure, need for sedation).

Ultrasound is widely available and allows for imaging of most areas of concern in the abdomen. Could sonography be used in place of CT in specific cases? Pediatric surgeons in Germany (who have been using ultrasound far longer than the US has) published a paper last year looking at their experience with children who were diagnosed with an intra-abdominal organ injury after blunt trauma. Their 7 year experience only produced 35 such children, and they were evaluated with examination and one or more serial FAST ultrasound exams. Equivocal results were scanned with CT.

They found that ultrasound was effective in diagnosing abdominal injury 97% of the time. Although 11 of the 35 children had subsequent CT scanning, it only changed management in one case

Bottom line: Obviously, this is a very small retrospective series, but it is provocative. The German pediatric surgeons go above and beyond the typical FAST exam in the US, using it for diagnostic purposes as well. Could a complete diagnostic ultrasound take the place of CT in select children in the US? Probably so, as they are very sensitive in detecting free fluid and solid organ injury. But what about blunt intestinal injury? I’ll review that tomorrow and sum up my thoughts on a possible algorithm.

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Reference: Is sonography reliable for the diagnosis of pediatric blunt abdominal trauma? J Pediatric Surg 45(5):912-915, 2010.

Trauma 20 Years Ago: Seatbelt Injuries

Seatbelt use has increased from 58% in 1994 to a high of 85% last year. We know that seatbelt use saves lives, but trauma professionals are also aware that they can create their own injuries as well. This is a positive trade-off, because belt use prevents injuries that are difficult to treat (e.g. severe brain injury) and produces a higher number of intra-abdominal injuries that are easy to treat.

The spectrum of injuries attributed to seat belt use was finally appreciated in a journal article published 20 years ago this month. The authors wanted to catalog the various injuries seen in belted and unbelted motor vehicle occupants. They reviewed data from the North Carolina Trauma Registry, one of the most sophisticated state registries at the time. Although there were over 21,000 records in the database, only 3,901 involved motor vehicle crashes and had complete data on seatbelt use.

This study found the following:

  • Mortality was higher in those not wearing their seat belts (7% vs 3.2%)
  • Unbelted had a much higher incidence of severe head injury (50% vs 33%)
  • Overall incidence of any abdominal injury was the same for both (14%)
  • GI tract injuries were more common in the belted group (3.4% vs 1.8%)
  • Solid organ injury was the same

Bottom line: This study sparked the recognition that seatbelts reduce severe head injury but increase the incidence of some hollow viscus injuries. About 514 severe head injuries were prevented in exchange for 21 additional abdominal injuries that were generally easily repaired. Good tradeoff!

Related posts: 

Reference: The spectrum of abdominal injuries associates with the use of seat belts. J Trauma 31(6):821-826, 1991.

The Seat Belt Sign

Officially, a seat belt sign consists of contusions and abrasions on the abdomen of a restrained occupant involved in a motor vehicle crash. The seat belt syndrome takes this one step further, with injury to the abdominal organs or spine.

Seat belts save lives by reducing the number of people dying from head injury after a car crash. However, they do so by diverting energy from the head to the chest and abdomen. Overall, people who don’t wear seat belts have a 10% chance of abdominal injury. With seat belts in place, this increases to 15%. And if the person is wearing seat belts and has a seat belt sign, the risk of injury increases to 65%!

This isn’t a bad thing, however. We can fix abdominal injuries, but we can’t fix the brain; it has to heal on its own, and slowly at that.

Seat belts are associated with the Chance fracture, an uncommon fracture of the lumbar spine, usually at L1. These usually only occur with the use of lap belts without shoulder restraints, which is found less and less in cars today. These used to be located in the center of the rear seat, but most new cars offer shoulder restraints in this location now.

Chance fractures need to be assessed by a spine surgeon so that stability can be determined. If stable and there is minimal kyphosis, a brace may be appropriate for treatment. However, if the fracture is not stable or there is more than about 15 degrees of angulation, surgery will be necessary.

As seat belt use increases, seat belt signs are becoming more common. Any patient with a seat belt sign must have an abdominal CT. If any abnormal findings are noted, a surgeon must be consulted because it is very likely that operative intervention will be required. 

To view a slideset about seat belt sign, click here.

Seat belt sign