Tag Archives: pediatric trauma

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.

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. A recently released paper confirms these findings.

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.

Blunt Duodenal Injury In Children

Blunt injury to hollow organs is rare in adults, but a little more common in children. This is due to their smaller muscle mass and the lack of protection by their more flexible skeleton. Duodenal injury is very rare, and most trauma professionals don’t see any during their career. As with many pediatric injuries, there has been a move toward nonoperative management in selected cases, and duodenal injury is no exception.

What we really need to know is, which child needs prompt operative treatment, and which ones can be treated without it? Children’s Hospital of Boston did a multicenter study of pediatric patients who underwent operation for their injury to try to tease out some answers about who needs surgery and what the consequences were.

A total of 16 children’s hospitals participated in this 4 ½ year study. Only 54 children had a duodenal injury, proven either by operation or autopsy. Some key points identified were:

  • The injury was very uncommon, with one child per hospital per year at best
  • 90% had tenderness or marks of some sort on their abdomen (seatbelt sign, handlebar mark, other contusions). 
  • Free air was not universal. Plain abdominal xray showed free air in 36% of cases, while CT showed it only 50% of the time. Free fluid was seen on CT in 100% of cases.
  • Contrast extravasation was uncommon, seen in 18% of patients.
  • Solid organ injuries were relatively common
  • Amylase was frequently elevated

Although laparoscopic exploration was attempted in about 12% of patients, it was universally converted to an open procedure when the injury was confirmed. TPN was used commonly in the postop period. Postop ileus was very common, but serious complications were rare (wound infection <10%, abscess 3%, fistula 4%). There were 2 deaths: one child presented in extremis, the other deteriorated one day after delayed recognition of the injury.

Bottom line: Be alert for this rare injury in children. Marks on the abdomen, particularly the epigastrium, should raise suspicion of a duodenal injury. The best imaging technique is the abdominal CT scan. Contrast is generally not helpful and not tolerated well by children. Duodenal hematoma can be managed nonoperatively. But any evidence of perforation (free fluid, air bubbles in the retroperitoneum, duodenal wall thickening, elevated serum amylase) should send the child to the OR. And laparotomy, not laparoscopy, is the way to go.

Related posts: Personal case – duodenal injury in a child

Reference: Operative blunt duodenal injury in children: a multi-institutional review. J Ped Surg 47(10):1833-1836, 2012.

DVT In Children

Deep venous thrombosis has been a problem in adult trauma patients for some time. Turns out, it’s a problem in injured children as well although much less common (<1%). However, the subset of kids admitted to the ICU for trauma have a much higher rate if not given prophylaxis (approx. 6%). Most trauma centers have protocols for chemical prophylaxis of adult patients, but not many have similar protocols for children.

The Medical College of Wisconsin looked at trends prior to and after implementation of a DVT protocol for patients < 19 years old. They used the following protocol to assess risk in patients admitted to the PICU and to determine what type of prophylaxis was warranted:

The need for and type of prophylaxis was balanced against the risk for significant bleeding, and this was accounted for in the protocol. The following significant findings were noted:

  • The overall incidence of DVT decreased significantly (65%) after the protocol was introduced, from 5.2% to 1.8%
  • The 1.8% incidence after protocol use is still higher than most other non-trauma pediatric populations 
  • After the protocol was used, all DVT was detected via screening. Suspicion based on clinical findings (edema, pain) only occurred pre-implementation.
  • Use of the protocol did not increase use of anticoagulation, it standardized management in pediatric patients

Bottom line: DVT does occur in injured children, particularly in severely injured ones who require admission to the ICU. Implementation of a regimented system of monitoring and prophylaxis decreases the overall DVT rate and standardizes care in this group of patients. This is another example of how the use of a well thought out protocol can benefit our patients and provide a more uniform way of managing them.

Related posts:

Reference: Effectiveness of clinical guidelines for deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis in reducing the incidence of venous thromboembolism in critically ill children after trauma. J Trauma 72(5):1292-1297, 2012.

The FAST Exam in Children

FAST is a helpful adjunct to the initial evaluation of adult trauma patients. Unfortunately, due to small numbers the usefulness is not as clear in children. In part, this is due to the fact that many children (particularly small children < 10 years old) have a small amount of fluid in the abdomen at baseline. This makes interpreting a FAST exam after trauma more difficult.

Despite this, use of FAST in children is widespread. A survey of 124 US trauma hospitals in 2007 showed an interesting pattern of ultrasound usage. In adult-only institutions 96% use FAST, and at hospitals that see both adults and kids, 85% use it. Most of these centers that use FAST have no lower age limit, and the physician most commonly performing the exam was a surgeon. However, only 15% of children’s hospitals do FAST exams, and they were usually done by nonsurgeons! The reasons for this are not clear. It appears that the pediatric surgeons have not embraced this technology as much as their adult counterparts.

What about that confusing bit of fluid found in kids? Several groups have looked at this (retrospectively). Fluid in the pelvis alone appears to be okay, but fluid anywhere else is a good predictor of solid organ injury. Fluid seen outside the pelvis had a 90% sensitivity and 97% specificity for injury, and positive and negative predictive values were 87% and 97% respectively.

Bottom line: FAST exam is useful in pediatric victims of blunt abdominal trauma. Fluid in the pelvis alone is normal in most children, but fluid seen anywhere else indicates a high probability of solid organ injury.

References: 

  1. Use of focused abdominal sonography for trauma at pediatric and adult trauma centers: a survey. J Pediatric Surgery 44:1746-1749, 2009.
  2. Minimal pelvic fluid in blunt abdominal trauma in children: the significance of this sonographic finding. J Pediatric Surgery 36(9):1387-1389, 2001.
  3. Clinical importance of ultrasonographic pelvic fluid in pediatric patients with blunt abdominal trauma. Ulus Travma Acil Cerrahi Derg 16(2):155-159, 2010.

How To Identify Sick Pediatric Trauma Patients Before They Get Too Sick

We all have a pretty good idea of when an inpatient adult trauma patient is getting into trouble. Most rapid response teams have a set of criteria that are used by nursing personnel to initiate an RRT response. However, children who are beginning to decompensate can show it in more subtle ways. Fortunately, there is a tool that can be used to identify children who are showing early signs of developing problems.

The Pediatric Early Warning Signs tool (PEWS) is an objective system for assessing the potential for deterioration in a child. It can be customized based on institutional needs, and typically has behavioral, cardiovascular, and respiratory components. At our pediatric trauma center, we added a urinary output component as well. Scoring for each component ranges from 0 (best) to 3 (worst).

The total score is calculated, and is used to classify the child as green (benign) to red (immediate action needed). Again, these thresholds can be adjusted by each hospital. At our center, nursing calculates the PEWS score every 4 hours on non-ventilated patients.

Score category and actions are as follows:

  • Green (0-3 points) – no action, reassess as ordered
  • Yellow (4-6 points) – notify charge nurse, resident and attending physician
  • Red (7 or more points) – call rapid response team, resident and attending physician
  • A score of 3 in any category – call resident and attending physician

We implemented this system earlier this month and will be validating it during the coming year. Our hope is that it will reduce the number of RRT and code calls by identify deterioration at a much earlier stage.

You can download a copy of our PEWS instrument here. Thanks to Tracy Larsen RN, our pediatric Trauma Program Manager, for providing information on this system.