Tag Archives: liver

Incidental Finding: Gas In The Spleen After Embolization

Most solid organ injury practice guidelines include angioembolization in part of the pathway. But very few require re-imaging at any point to see how the liver or spleen are coming along.

But every once in a while another condition arises, or symptoms worsen unexpectedly, causing us to get another CT scan that includes the abdomen and pelvis. And sometimes we see things that we wouldn’t normally see, like air bubbles in the organ that was embolized.

So what is okay, and what requires some kind of intervention? Our friends at ShockTrauma in Baltimore looked at this in 2001 and can provide some pretty good guidance. They reviewed patients who underwent CT scan both before and after embolization over about 2.5 years. They performed the post-embolization scans for specific indications like fevers, elevated WBC count (!), increasing abdominal pain, or an episode of hypotension. A total of 53 patients were studied.

Here are the factoids:

  • 24 patients underwent embolization of the main splenic artery, 22 had selective embolization of part of the spleen, and 7 had both
  • Splenic infarcts occurred in 63% of patients with main artery embolization, but were large (> 50% of the parenchyma) in only 20% of those
  • Infarcts occurred in 100% of selective embolizations, but were small (< 50%) in 93% of cases
  • Infarcts occurred in 71% of patients with both main and selective embolization, and most were small (80%)
  • Seven (13%) patients developed gas bubbles in the spleen, and was usually present for 1-7 days before disappearing
  • One patient developed increasing gas with pneumoperitoneum and underwent splenectomy for a splenectomy for abscess

This picture that shows tiny bubbles in the spleen parenchyma that represent “normal” gas after embolization:

And the following one shows an air/fluid collection in the spleen that indicates an abscess:

Bottom line: Tiny bubbles in the spleen (and probably the liver) occur normally after angioembolization. They usually develop within an area of infarction, and most are benign. It is possible for them to evolve into a splenic abscess, but unlikely. Many embolization patients develop fevers at some point, and most have an elevated WBC count. So in most cases, you can ignore this incidental finding, as long as your patient has mild symptoms.

However, if the patient develops high fevers, very elevated WBC (> 25K), increasing abdominal or flank pain, and the spleen develops an air/fluid level, an abscess is forming. Despite what your radiologist might suggest, catheter drainage is not a good idea. The tubes are too small to remove the slurry that is generally found within the abscess. A trip to the OR is the only effective treatment, and splenectomy is generally the only option.

Related posts:

Reference: CT Findings after Embolization for Blunt Splenic Trauma. J Vasc Intervent Radiol 12(2):209-214, 2001.

Early Mobilization In Solid Organ Injury

Most trauma centers have some kind of practice guideline for managing solid organ injury. Unfortunately, the specifics at each center are all over the map. Here are a few common questions:

  • Should you keep the patient NPO?
  • How often should Hgb/Hct be repeated?
  • Should they be at bed rest?
  • What are their activity restrictions after they go home?

spleen-lac

As for activity, some earlier studies have shown that early ambulation is safe. The group at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia tried to determine if early mobilization would decrease time in ICU and/or the hospital, or increase complications.

Until 2011, their trauma service kept all patients with solid organ injury at bed rest for 3 days(!). They modified this routine to allow ambulation the following morning for Grade 1 and 2 injuries, and after 24 hours for Grade 3 and above, or those with hemoperitoneum. They examined their experience for 4 years prior (PRE) and 4 years after (POST) this change. They excluded patients with penetrating injury, or other significant injuries that would impact the length of stay.

Here are the factoids:

  • 300 solid organ injury patients were identified in the PRE period, and all but 89 were excluded
  • 251 were identified in the POST period, and all but 99 were excluded
  • Hospital length of stay was significantly shorter (5.9 vs 3.7 days) after implementation of the new guideline
  • ICU length of stay also decreased significantly, from 4.6 to 1.8 days
  • The authors extrapolated a cost savings of about $40K for the ICU stay, and $10K for the ward stay, per patient
  • There was one treatment failure in each group

Bottom line: It’s about time we recognized what a waste of time these restrictions are! Unfortunately, the study groups became very small after exclusions, but apparently the statistics were still valid. But still, it continues to become clear that there is no magic in keeping someone starving in their bed for any period of time.

At my hospital, we adopted a practice guideline very similar to this one way back in 2004 (download it below). Hospital lengths of stay dropped to about 1.5 days for low grade injury, and to about 2.5 days for high grade.

And earlier this year, we eliminated the NPO and bed rest restrictions altogether! How many patients actually fail and end up going urgently to the OR? So why starve them all? And normal activity started immediately is no different than activity started a few hours or days later.

Don’t starve or hobble your patients, adults or children!

Related posts:

Reference: Early mobilization of patients with non-operative liver and spleen injuries is safe and cost effective. AAST 2016, Poster #5.

Updated Solid Organ Injury Protocol

Over the past several days, I’ve been writing about updates to our solid organ injury protocol. It eliminates orders for bed rest and NPO diet status afterwards. After looking at our experience over the years, the number of early failures is practically zero. So how many days do you need to keep a patient in bed to make sure they have an empty stomach when they need to be whisked away to the OR. And does walking around really make your injured spleen fall apart?

The answers are none and no. So we’ve updated our protocol at Regions Hospital to reflect this. Feel free to download and modify to your heart’s content. If you want a copy of the Microsoft Publisher file, just email me!

Download the protocol here!

Solid Organ Injury Tips

Over the years, I’ve written about solid organ injury management many times. Here is a summary of some practical pointers and tips, some old and some new. They are as evidence-based as I can get them. This kind of stuff is not always in the doctor and nursing books.

  • Please refer to our solid organ injury protocol, which you can download here.
  • Ward and ICU branches are order sets at my hospital, not necessarily admitting locations. If you have a special unit or step-down area that can provide ICU-level monitoring, use it for the ICU order set.
  • Strongly consider interventional radiology (IR) and angiography in all adult patients with contrast extravasation (children generally do not qualify unless they show signs/sx of ongoing volume loss). Consider also in high grade injuries, because they may have active bleeding that isn’t quite brisk enough to see on CT.
  • Serial hemoglobin measurements are not part of the protocol. They are only used to help decide if transfusion might be needed. Vital signs will always signal failure before the hemoglobin does.
  • Nearly all patients may be up and eating immediately, or certainly by the next morning. No need for protracted NPO status or bed rest. Really no need for it at all!
  • Failure really falls into 2 types: hard and soft. Hard failure is a single episode of definitive hypotension (usually 80s or less) or development of peritoneal signs, and requires an emergency trip to the OR. Soft failure is transient or modest hypotension that responds rapidly to a fluid bolus. If IR has not already been used, a quick trip there may obviate the need for operation. However, another one of these bouts makes it a hard fail. Time for OR.
  • Hard failure can only be treated with blood, some crystalloid, and a knife. Pressors, steroids, or other drugs can only be used if they come in liter bags and can be given at over 1000cc/hr. That means never.
  • In IR, give the radiologist 30 minutes to stop the bleeding. Don’t let them dawdle for hours. If the patient has a hard fail, abort and go to OR; do not let the radiologist persist.

After discharge, our usual orders are:

  • Normal activity (non-impact) for 6 weeks
  • All activity (except high impact) thereafter
  • High impact activity (tackle football, rugby, serious extreme sports) only after 12 weeks (no good data for this one)
  • No repeat CT scanning to judge healing
  • Warn patients of the good possibility of a transient increase in pain on days 7-10. This is common in many unless they’ve been embolized.
  • Patient to call if unrelenting increase in pain, or increasing orthostatic symptoms, fevers chills

Related post:

Contrast Blush in Children

A contrast blush is occasionally seen on abdominal CT in patients with solid organ injury. This represents active arterial extravasation from the injured organ. In most institutions, this is grounds for call interventional radiology to evaluate and possibly embolize the problem. The image below shows a typical blush from extravasation.

Splenic contrast blush

This thinking is fairly routine and supported by the literature in adults. However, it cannot be generalized to children!

Children have more elastic tissue in their spleen and tend to do better with nonoperative management than adults. The same holds true for contrast blushes. The vast majority of children will stop bleeding on their own, despite the appearance of a large blush. In fact, if children are taken to angiography, it is commonplace for no extravasation to be seen!

Angiography introduces the risk of local complications in the femoral artery as well as more proximal ones. That, coupled with the fact that embolization is rarely needed, should keep any prudent trauma surgeon from ordering the test. It should be reserved for cases where nonoperative management is failing, but hypotension (hard fail) has not yet occurred.

The only difficult questions is “when is a child no longer a child?” Is there an age cutoff at which the spleen starts acting like an adult and keeps on bleeding? Unfortunately, we don’t know. I recommend that you use the “eyeball test”, and reserve angiography for kids with contrast extravasation who look like adults (size and body habitus).

Reference: What is the significance of contrast “blush” in pediatric blunt splenic trauma? Davies et al. J Pediatric Surg 2010 May; 45(5):916-20.