Tag Archives: blunt trauma

Carotid and Vertebral Artery Injury From Blunt Trauma

Blunt injury to the carotid or vertebral arteries (BCVI) is relatively uncommon, but potentially very deadly. Up to 2% of patients with high energy blunt trauma suffer this injury. Many are not diagnosed until the patient has ischemic symptoms or a stroke. However, more aggressive screening has shown a higher incidence that previously thought and may allow intervention before neurologic injury occurs.

Recently, a series of 222 patients with 263 BCVI was retrospectively reviewed, with an eye toward effectiveness of interventions. A total of 29 strokes occurred in the hospital in these patients, but only 7 of these occurred after diagnosis of the BCVI. Mortality was much higher in the stroke group (34% vs 7%). The authors looked at both medical and interventional therapies.

This paper identified the following items:

  • Car crash was the most common mechanism of injury (81%)
  • Vertebral arterial injury was slightly more common than carotid artery BUT
  • Women were much more likely to sustain a carotid injury
  • Older patients were more likely to have a vertebral injury

These authors found that CT angio was not sufficiently sensitive to identify all BCVI. They recommend a formal 4-vessel arteriogram in patients with a negative CT angio who have significant risk factors (unexplained neurologic deficit, Horner’s syndrome, LeFort II or III injury, cervical spine injury, soft tissue injury of the neck).

If a BCVI is identified, the patient should be heparinized until all other injuries are definitively managed. At that point, they should be preloaded with clopidogrel and aspirin and a repeat arteriogram should be performed. Endovascular stenting using a bare metal stent should be performed when possible because it results in the lowest stroke rate and requires the shortest duration of anti-platelet therapies. Patients then continue on aspirin and clopidogrel for an appropriate period of time.

To download the algorithm used by the authors, click here.

Reference: Optimal outcomes for patients with blunt cerebrovascular injury (BCVI): tailoring treatment to the lesion. J Am Coll Surg 212(4):549-559, 2011.

Less Morbidity From Negative Trauma Laparotomies?

Trauma surgeons generally dread the negative laparotomy for trauma. Previous work has shown that complications occur in anywhere from 22% to 53% of cases. Those studies were usually retrospective and included patients with penetrating trauma, which may have skewed the results.

A newly published study tries to throw this common wisdom in doubt. It was a retrospective review of a prospectively maintained database of trauma admissions after blunt trauma . Patients were separated into groups who underwent immediate, delayed or no laparotomy, as well as whether they had or did not have associated injuries. Complications were tracked using an accurate and validated tracking system. The complications tracked included death, DVT, PE, infections, pulmonary issues, as well as other organ system problems.

The authors found that a negative laparotomy did not increase the complication rate, but that a delayed laparotomy did. They also noted that a Complication Impact Score (that they made up) was higher in the delay to laparotomy patients. So they believe that when clinical and imaging findings are equivocal, doing an operation to establish a diagnosis is justifiable.

My Bottom Line: This study does not look at really delayed complications like small bowel obstruction, which we see with some regularity in old trauma patients. Also, other studies have also shown that brief observation, even in patients with a bowel injury, does not increase complications significantly. Unless the potential injury that you are observing is known to have significant complications, my practice is to observe equivocal cases in order to avoid more complications down the road.

Reference: “Never be wrong”: the morbidity of negative and delayed laparotomies after blunt trauma. J Trauma 69(6): 1386-1392, 2010.

Evaluation of Hematuria in Blunt Trauma

Hematuria ranges from microscopic to gross. Microscopic means blood that can only be seen with a microscope, and gross means visible to the naked eye. In trauma, we only care about gross hematuria, which ranges from the faintest of pink to the deepest red.

In trauma, gross hematuria is a result of an injury to kidney, ureter or bladder. Blunt injury to the ureter is so rare it’s reportable, so you can pretty much forget that one unless the mechanism is extreme. So you really just need to focus on kidney and bladder.

Any victim of blunt trauma that presents with visible hematuria needs to be evaluated by CT of the abdomen and pelvis with an added CT cystogram. Standard CT technique is done without a urinary catheter, or with the catheter clamped. Only 50% of bladder injuries show up with this technique.

CT cystogram is an add-on to the standard CT, and consists of the administration of contrast into the bladder which is then kept under pressure while the scan is done. Delayed slices through the pelvis after the bladder is depressurized and emptied is routine. Nearly 100% of bladder injuries are detected using this technique.

If the CT shows a renal laceration or hematoma, the patient should be admitted and managed according to your solid organ injury protocol. Kidney injuries fare better that livers and spleens, and only rarely require surgery. If no kidney or bladder injury is seen, the default diagnosis of a renal contusion is the culprit. No treatment is needed, and the patient can be discharged if no other injuries are present. The blood will clear over a few days, but may disappear and reappear a few times in the process. The patient can followup with their primary care physician in a week or two.

Syncope Workup in Trauma Patients

Syncope accounts for 1-2% of all ED visits, and is a factor in some patients with blunt trauma, especially the elderly. If syncope is suspected, a “syncope workup” is frequently ordered. Just what this consists of is poorly defined. Even less understood is how useful the syncope workup really is.

Researchers at Yale retrospectively looked at their experience doing syncope workups in trauma patients. They were interested in seeing what was typically ordered, if it was clinically useful, and if it impacted length of stay. 

A total of 14% of trauma patients had syncope as a possible contributor to their injury. The investigators found that the following tests were typically ordered in these patients:

  • Carotid ultrasound (96%)
  • 2D Echo (96%)
  • Cardiac enzymes (81%)
  • Cardiology consult (23%)
  • Neurology consult (11%)
  • EEG (7%)
  • MRI (6%)

Most of this testing was normal. About 3% of cardiac enzymes were abnormal, as were 5% of carotid imaging and 4% of echocardiograms. 

Important! Of the patients who underwent an intervention after workup, 69% could have been identified based on history, physical exam, or EKG and did not depend on any of the other diagnostic tests.

Conclusion: Syncope workup is not needed routinely in trauma patients with syncope as a contributing factor. Need for intervention can usually be determined by history, exam and EKG performed in the ED. In this study, $216,000 in excess costs would have been saved!

Reference: Routine / protocol evaluation of trauma patients with suspected syncope is unnecessary. Davis, et al, Yale University. Presented at the 23rd Annual Scientific Assembly of the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, January 2010.

Trauma 20 Years Ago: Blunt Aortic Injury in Children

We always worry about the aorta after high-energy blunt trauma in adults. Should we be doing the same in kids? After all, they are very elastic and for the most part they are tough to break.

A 13 year review was undertaken by the CV surgeons at Harborview twenty years ago which tried to answer this question. They looked at medical examiner records of all pediatric deaths (16 or younger) and identified the ones with traumatic aortic injury. They found only 12 deaths (2.1%), and somehow they also tracked one survivor (from ME data???). The age range was 3-15, with a mean of 12 (which means that the majority were in the older age group).

Six children were pedestrian struck, 5 were involved in car crashes, and two were on motorized bikes or ATVs. None of the children in car crashes were restrained and two were ejected. Four of the five were traveling > 55mph. All had other serious injuries, including abdominal and orthopedic.

It’s tough to draw any meaningful conclusions from this paper due to the small numbers, the retrospective design, and the lack of a denominator. The only thing it does tell us is that aortic injury is bad, and that kids should not get hit by cars and should wear their seat belts. The mean age suggests that it involves primarily older children. But we kind of knew all that already.

What it does not help with is figuring out at what age we need to start thinking about imaging the aorta with CT scan. I’ll be digging into that a little more this week.

Reference: Eddy et al. The epidemiology of traumatic rupture of the aorta in children: a 13 year review. J Trauma 30(8): 989-992, 1990.