Tag Archives: CT

Clinical Tip: The Flat Vena Cava in Blunt Trauma

Trauma patients who are hypotensive in the Emergency Department can only be transported to one of two places: the operating room or the morgue. With rare exception, they should never be taken outside the department (e.g. CT scan) because of the fear that they may arrest in an area that is not conducive to efficient resuscitation.

Sometimes patients are initially stable but decompensate later. Since most stable blunt trauma patients end up in CT scan, perhaps there is some telltale sign that can predict later deterioration. A recent Japanese paper looked at the “flatness” of the inferior vena cava as seen on the abdominal CT scan as a predictor of hemodynamic decompensation in the first 24 hours.

A small cohort of 114 patients was used in this prospective study. The vena cava was evaluated at the level of the renal veins. The flatness of the IVC was determined by dividing the transverse diameter by the anteroposterior (AP) diameter. A flat IVC was defined as a transverse to AP diameter ratio of more than 4:1. The ratio in normal patients was about 2:1. See the figure for details.

Patients who had a flat IVC required significantly more blood transfusions, crystalloid infusions within 2 hours of admission, and were more likely to proceed to the OR within the first 24 hours of their hospital stay.

Bottom Line: Assuming that you are only taking stable blunt trauma patients to CT, the incidental finding of a flat vena cava should increase your paranoia levels and lower your threshold for ordering blood and getting the trauma surgeons involved. 

Reference: Predictive value of a flat inferior vena cava on initial computed tomography for hemodynamic deteroration in patients with blunt torso trauma. J Trauma 69(6):1398-1402, 2010.

Emergency Medicine & Trauma Update – Bloomington, MN 10/28/10

“Torso Trauma Update” presented at 8:40AM.

For a copy of the slideset, click here.

Bibliography:

  • What is the utility of focused assessment with sonography in trauma (FAST) exam in penetrating torso trauma? Injury, in press, 2010.
  • CT of blunt abdominal and pelvic vascular injury. Emerg Radiology 17:21-29, 2010
  • More operations, more deaths? Relationship between operative intervention and risk-adjusted mortality at trauma centers. J Trauma 69(1):70-77, 2010

Diagnosing Facial Fractures With CT

Facial fractures are common after major blunt trauma. There are a number of diagnostic tests available for their diagnosis, including head CT, conventional facial imaging and facial CT.

Our preference has been to add a facial CT to the list of diagnostics in any patient with external evidence of facial trauma. Subjectively, it appeared that there were not many injuries being identified, and the vast majority did not require operative management. 

A review of the literature shows that head CT alone is sufficient for screening for significant facial fractures. A small retrospective series noted that the accuracy was 92%, with 90% sensitivity and 95% specificity. 

Bottom line: A head CT alone ordered for the usual indications is a very good screening test for facial fractures. If none are seen, it is unlikely that there are any fractures that require specific management. If fractures are seen, consultation with a facial surgeon is needed. However, unless the fractures involve critical areas (e.g. temporal bone near the middle ear) or are significantly displaced, the benefit of a facial CT scan is still very low since most will be treated without operation.

Reference: Computed tomography of the head as a screening examination for facial fractures. Marinaro et al. Am J Emerg Med 25, 616-619, 2007.

GI Contrast In CT Scanning for Blunt Trauma

Torso CT scanning has become a mainstay in the evaluation of major blunt trauma. The question of using GI contrast in these CTs arises from time to time. There is an ongoing battle between the ED physician/trauma surgeon, who want quick clinical and relevant results, and the radiologist, who wants nice pictures and a comprehensive list of diagnoses.

IV contrast is so helpful and immediately available that it is virtually a no-brainer to use. The only exception is in patients who have a known allergy to it. GI contrast is more complicated. Ideally, it should be given in divided doses over about an hour, and there just isn’t time for it in trauma patients.

We designed a prospective, randomized study more than 10 years ago that looked at groups of patients who either did or did not receive oral contrast. We studied 394 patients and looked a the need for laparotomy based on study results, delayed diagnoses, and nausea/vomiting.

Thirteen percent of the patients in each group vomited. There were two aspirations, both in the non-contrast group. There were 50 abnormal scans in the contrast group and 55 in the no-contrast group. Nineteen contrast and 14 no-contrast patients were taken to OR.

Most interesting, there were 6 bowel injuries in the contrast group and one was not seen by CT. There were 3 bowel injuries in the no-contrast group and all were seen on CT. We found that there were always other signs of injury, such as mesenteric stranding or bubbles. 

Bottom line: Oral contrast is not necessary in acute blunt trauma patients undergoing CT of the abdomen. 

Use of Abdominal CT in Stab Wounds to the Anterior Abdomen

In general, stab wounds to the anterior abdomen (like any penetrating injury to the area) demand further evaluation to make sure there are no significant injuries. In the old days, a stab to the abdomen mandated a trip to the operating room. Fortunately, we recognized that more than half of these operations led to negative explorations.

Nowadays we can be much more selective. Here is my approach to evaluating these patients.

First, are there any indications that the patient needs to go to the OR right now?Check the vital signs. If there is any hemodynamic instability, operate! Check the abdomen. If there is obvious peritonitis, or significant tenderness more distant from the actual stab site, off you go to the OR!

Next, after finishing all of the usual ATLS protocol it’s time to evaluate further.Several options exist:

  • Observation – this is good for busy trauma centers that have lots of penetrating injury and busy ORs
  • DPL – not used too much any more, but certainly is legitimate. I recommend that your RBC count threshold be reduced to 25,000 or 50,000
  • Local wound exploration – this works in thinner people. Doing a LWE on an obese patient requires an incision that approaches the size of a small laparotomy. Might as well do it in the OR. Look for any violation of the anterior fascia.
  • CT scan – the new kid on the block

To use CT, the patient must be stable (remember, they should be in the OR if otherwise) and have had a full ATLS evaluation. They should also not be terribly thin. Too little fat makes it difficult to gauge depth of the injury.

The entry site(s) should be marked with a small marker to minimize streak artifact. Resist the temptation to just scan the area around the stab itself. Do a full IV contrast (no GI needed) abdomen/pelvis scan.

Look closely for blood outlining the wound tract. If it reaches the anterior abdominal fascia, the exam is positive. You do not need to see specific injury to the muscle or abdominal viscera. Violation of the anterior fascia is an absolute indication to proceed to the OR. On occasion, the knife will not penetrating the posterior fascia, or penetrates but does not injury any organs. In these cases it is best to have operated and found nothing rather than delaying and increasing the risk of intra-abdominal complications or infections.

Scan 1 shows blood tracking to the anterior fascia, as well as an increase in size of the rectus muscle.

Scan 2 shows penetration of the posterior rectus sheath with intra-abdominal fat herniating into it. The transverse colon is only 2 cm away deep to it. Scan 1 alone is enough to prompt you to take the patient to the OR!