Tag Archives: neck

The Evolution Of Penetrating Neck Trauma Management – Part 2: Initial Steps

In my previous post, I described the early days of penetrating neck injury management and introduced a paper suggesting that this concept should be revised. Today, I will summarize a paper by Siletz and Inaba that is currently in press and outlines what the contemporary way of treating these injuries should be.

Step 1. If present, rapidly control external hemorrhage and airway compromise. As always, bleeding should be controlled by direct pressure or packing. Direct pressure does not look like this:

The goal is to create a zone of pressure higher than the systolic BP perfectly in the area of bleeding. Since pressure is force per unit area, a larger area like that show above diffuses the maximum pressure and just doesn’t work. Note the ongoing bleeding shown in the picture.

Here’s what direct pressure looks like:

Or

A single finger (or maybe two) should be placed on or in the wound. If deeper bleeding is a problem, the same kind of pressure can be accomplished by packing with gauze. If gauze is used, however, pressure must usually be applied over the gauze to make sure that the underlying tissues remain pressurized.

If gauze packing is not practical because of this need for additional pressure, a urinary catheter can be inserted into the wound and inflated until the bleeding stops.

Courtesy Core EM

Airway control should ideally occur in the operating room. Given the proximity of this wound to airway structures, it is imperative that an ideal environment is present when the airway is inserted. A skilled anesthesiologist should be present, with difficult airway equipment available if needed. The surgeon should be standing by with all equipment needed to obtain a surgical airway if needed. Even though the patient may be breathing okay, the airway structures may be distorted by hematoma or injury.

You have probably noted that this is the same initial assessment we used in the old three zones approach. In the next post, I will discuss the details of a new assessment approach that considers the neck a single unit.

 

The Evolution Of Penetrating Neck Trauma Management – Part 1

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

This is a famous quote from John Maynard Keynes. (Or is it? There is some debate over its authenticity, but you get the idea it tries to convey.) Our knowledge base continually changes, so we must be willing to change our minds (and practices) based on new, reliable information.

The management of penetrating neck injury is one of those facets in trauma care that has undergone slow but steady progress over the past 40 years of my career. In the old days, we quickly identified the zone of injury and proceeded to the operating room for Zone II injuries. We had to think a little harder about the other zones to be certain that we needed to be in the OR. But overall, the threshold for surgery was low.

Things have been changing. Five years ago, I published a post detailing new work by Inaba et al. at LAC+USC. This started a move toward using more straightforward criteria and advanced imaging to assist decision-making with these injuries.

In this post, I’ll summarize the original paper. In the next section, I will describe the group’s paper, which is currently in press and outlines the full framework for workup or penetrating neck injury.

The advance that makes this new method possible is based on the high degree of accuracy that CT angiography of the neck provides. It is very sensitive for identifying even minor injuries to the aerodigestive tract and vascular system.

The trauma group at LAC+USC organized a prospective, multicenter study using a multidetector CT angiography of the neck for initial screening of penetrating neck injury. This allows the evaluation of the neck as a single unit, not as three zones. It also solves the problem of trying to apply zones to injuries that cross several of them.

The new algorithm that was tested utilized an initial physical exam, first looking specifically for “hard signs” of injury.  The following were considered the hard signs:

  • Active hemorrhage
  • Expanding or pulsatile hematoma
  • Bruit or thrill over the injured area
  • Unresponsive shock
  • Hemoptysis or hematemesis
  • Air bubbling from the wound

These patients were immediately taken to the OR and explored through an appropriate incision.

Patients with no signs or symptoms were admitted and observed for at least 24 hours. All other patients were considered to have “soft signs.” They underwent multidetector CT angiography of the neck, with a scanner having at least 40 slices. Further evaluation of these patients was based on the exam and CT scan.

Here are the factoids:

  • 453 patients with penetrating neck injuries were identified during the 31-month study period
  • 9% had hard signs and were taken to the OR; 50% had soft signs and underwent CT; 41% had no signs and were observed
  • For soft sign patients, 86% of scans were negative, and all were true negatives after observation
  • 12% of soft sign patients had a positive scan, and of those, 81% were true positives
  • four patients (2%) with soft signs had too much artifact for an accurate CT, and other tests were performed; 1 of the 4 had an injury
  • Sensitivity of CTA was 100%, and specificity was 97.5% in the soft sign patients
  • The authors concluded that CTA is very reliable for identifying injuries in patients with soft signs and that patients with no signs do not require scanning, only observation

Bottom line: This was an intriguing paper that utilized both physical examination and CT angiography. The results were impressive, and they supported the argument that CTA is not required in all stable patients. With additional numbers and time, it has become clear that we can safely adopt this algorithm. My next post will flesh out the details.

Reference: Evaluation of multidetector computed tomography for
penetrating neck injury: A prospective multicenter study. J Trauma 72(3):576-584, 2012.

Management Of Penetrating Neck Trauma: The Way We Were/Are

The management of penetrating injuries to the neck has changed very little over the years. Could it be time? Today, I’ll review some of the basics of classic diagnosis and treatment. In my next post, I’ll discuss an alternative way to approach it.

First, lets look at the time-honored zones of the neck. Here’s a nice diagram from EMDocs.net:

The zones are numbered in reverse, from bottom to top, and in Roman numerals.

The area below the cricoid cartilage is considered Zone I and contains many large vascular and aerodigestive structures that are relatively difficult to approach surgically. For this reason, diagnostic testing is recommended to assist in determining if an operation is actually needed and what the best surgical exposure would be. Obviously, this can only be considered in the stable patient. Unstable patients must go straight to the OR and the trauma surgeon will determine the surgical approach on the fly.

Similarly, the area above the angle of the mandible is Zone III, and is also difficult to expose. Injuries to this area may involve the distal carotid and vertebral arteries near the base of the skull, as well as the distal jugular vein. Surgical approach may require dislocation of or fracturing the mandible to get at this area. This is  challenging and not that desirable, and few surgeons are familiar with the technique. For this reason, imaging is very desirable and often demonstrates that no significant injury is present. And endovascular / angiographic techniques are now available that may obviate the need for surgery.

Zone II is everything in-between the mandibular angle and cricoid cartilage. This is the surgical Easy Button. Exposure is simple and the operation is fun. In the old days, an injury to this area went straight to the OR regardless of whether there were signs or symptoms of injury. Yes, there were quite a few negative explorations. But we’ve become more selective now with the advent of improved resolution of our CT scans.

Currently, we usually follow a two-step approach to penetrating neck trauma:

  1. Are there hard signs of injury present? These tell us that a structure that absolutely needs to be fixed has been injured. The patient should be taken directly to OR after control of the airway, if appropriate. Typical hard signs are:
    1. Airway compromise
    2. Active air bubbling from wound
    3. Expanding or pulsatile hematoma
    4. Active bleeding
    5. Hematemesis
  2. What zone is the injury in? And don’t just look at the obvious entry point. Gunshots (and long knives) may enter multiple zones. The zone then determines what happens next:
    1. Zone I – CT angio of neck and chest. If positive, proceed to OR for repairs, and perform EGD and/or bronchoscopy as needed
    2. Zone II – Old days: proceed to operating room for exploration, or angiogram, EGD, direct laryngoscopy, and bronchoscopy. Most chief residents chose the former. Current day: CTA of neck, followed by OR, EGD, bronchoscopy only if indicated.
    3. Zone III – CT angio of the neck. If positive, consider angiography/endovascular consultation vs operation.

Changes from old days to more current thinking have been made possible by improvements in speed and resolution of our CT scanners. But why can’t we take this another step forward and streamline this process even more? I’ll propose some changes in my next post!

Reference: Western Trauma Association Critical Decisions in Trauma:
Penetrating neck trauma. J Trauma 75(6):936-940, 2013.

Management Of Penetrating Neck Trauma: The Future?

In my last post, I described the evolution of the classic approach to penetrating neck injury. Today, I’ll propose a new way of managing it based on a combination of physical exam and CT scan.

This proposal is based on the high degree of accuracy that CT angiography of the neck provides. It is very sensitive for identifying even small injuries to the aerodigestive tract and vascular system. This study is based on work done at LA County – USC Hospital several years ago.

The trauma group at LAC+USC organized a prospective, multicenter study using a multidetector CT angiography of the neck for initial screening of penetrating neck injury. This allows evaluation the neck as a single unit, not as three zones. It also solves the problem of trying to apply zones to injuries that cross several of them.

The new algorithm that was tested utilized an initial physical exam, first looking specifically for “hard signs” of injury.  The following were considered the hard signs:

  • Active hemorrhage
  • Expanding or pulsatile hematoma
  • Bruit or thrill over the injured area
  • Unresponsive shock
  • Hemoptysis or hematemesis
  • Air bubbling from the wound

These patients were immediately taken to the OR and explored through an appropriate incision.

Patients with no signs or symptoms were admitted and observed for at least 24 hours. All other patients were considered to have “soft signs.” They underwent multidetector CT angiography of the neck, with a scanner having at least 40 slices. Further evaluation of these patients was based on the exam and CT scan.

Here are the factoids:

  • 453 patients with penetrating neck injury were identified during the 31 month study period
  • 9% had hard signs and were taken to OR; 50% had soft signs are underwent CT; 41% had no signs and were observed
  • For soft sign patients, 86% of scans were negative and all were true negatives after observation
  • 12% of soft sign patients had a positive scan, and of those 81% were true positives
  • 4 patients (2%) with soft signs had too much artifact for an accurate CT and other tests were performed; 1 of the 4 had an injury
  • Sensitivity of CTA was 100% and specificity was 97.5% in the soft sign patients
  • The authors concluded that CTA is very reliable for identifying injuries in patient with soft signs, and that patients with no signs do not require scanning, only observation

Bottom line: This is an intriguing paper that takes advantage of both physical examination at CT angiography. The results are impressive, but the numbers are still relatively small. It lends support to the argument that CTA is not required in all stable patients. But I can’t recommend completely changing our practice yet based on this one study. Additional numbers are certainly needed, but I suspect that this will become the norm in the future. I would also recommend that we all carefully look at our diagnostic algorithms to see other areas where we might identify and eliminate unneeded imaging, labs, etc.

Reference: Evaluation of multidetector computed tomography for
penetrating neck injury: A prospective multicenter study. J Trauma 72(3):576-584, 2012.

Management Of Penetrating Neck Trauma: The Way We Were/Are

The management of penetrating injuries to the neck has changed very little over the years. Could it be time? Today, I’ll review some of the basics of classic diagnosis and treatment. In my next post, I’ll discuss an alternative way to approach it.

First, lets look at the time-honored zones of the neck. Here’s a nice diagram from EMDocs.net:

The zones are numbered in reverse, from bottom to top, and in Roman numerals.

The area below the cricoid cartilage is considered Zone I and contains many large vascular and aerodigestive structures that are relatively difficult to approach surgically. For this reason, diagnostic testing is recommended to assist in determining if an operation is actually needed and what the best surgical exposure would be. Obviously, this can only be considered in the stable patient. Unstable patients must go straight to the OR and the trauma surgeon will determine the surgical approach on the fly.

Similarly, the area above the angle of the mandible is Zone III, and is also difficult to expose. Injuries to this area may involve the distal carotid and vertebral arteries near the base of the skull, as well as the distal jugular vein. Surgical approach may require dislocation of or fracturing the mandible to get at this area. This is  challenging and not that desirable, and few surgeons are familiar with the technique. For this reason, imaging is very desirable and often demonstrates that no significant injury is present. And endovascular / angiographic techniques are now available that may obviate the need for surgery.

Zone II is everything in-between the mandibular angle and cricoid cartilage. This is the surgical Easy Button. Exposure is simple and the operation is fun. In the old days, an injury to this area went straight to the OR regardless of whether there were signs or symptoms of injury. Yes, there were quite a few negative explorations. But we’ve become more selective now with the advent of improved resolution of our CT scans.

Currently, we usually follow a two-step approach to penetrating neck trauma:

  1. Are there hard signs of injury present? These tell us that a structure that absolutely needs to be fixed has been injured. The patient should be taken directly to OR after control of the airway, if appropriate. Typical hard signs are:
    1. Airway compromise
    2. Active air bubbling from wound
    3. Expanding or pulsatile hematoma
    4. Active bleeding
    5. Hematemesis
  2. What zone is the injury in? And don’t just look at the obvious entry point. Gunshots (and long knives) may enter multiple zones. The zone then determines what happens next:
    1. Zone I – CT angio of neck and chest. If positive, proceed to OR for repairs, and perform EGD and/or bronchoscopy as needed
    2. Zone II – Old days: proceed to operating room for exploration, or angiogram, EGD, direct laryngoscopy, and bronchoscopy. Most chief residents chose the former. Current day: CTA of neck, followed by OR, EGD, bronchoscopy only if indicated.
    3. Zone III – CT angio of the neck. If positive, consider angiography/endovascular consultation vs operation.

Changes from old days to more current thinking have been made possible by improvements in speed and resolution of our CT scanners. But why can’t we take this another step forward and streamline this process even more? I’ll propose some changes in my next post!

Reference: Western Trauma Association Critical Decisions in Trauma:
Penetrating neck trauma. J Trauma 75(6):936-940, 2013.