CT scan is essential in diagnosing injury, although concerns for unnecessary radiation exposure are growing. These concerns are even greater in children, who may be more likely to have long-term effects from it. This makes avoiding duplication of CT scanning extremely important.
Unfortunately, there are only about 50 pediatric trauma centers in the US, so the majority of seriously injured children are seen at another hospital before transfer. Does CT evaluation at the first hospital increase the likelihood that a repeat scan will be needed at the trauma center, increasing radiation exposure and risk?
Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati looked at 3 years of transfers of injured children from community hospitals. They then looked at how many of those children had an initial head and/or abdomen scan at the outside hospital, and whether a repeat scan of those areas was performed within 4 hours or arrival at Rainbow.
Numbers were small, but here are the results:
33 had an outside CT scan, 28 (90%) were repeated
6 had an outside abdominal scan, 2 (33%) were repeated
55 did not have outside scans, none were repeated at Rainbow. (This is a weird thing to look at. I would hope that the trauma center didn’t have to repeat any of their own scans within 4 hours!)
Bottom line: It is critically important for referring hospitals to use radiation wisely! First, if the patient has obvious injuries that require transfer, don’t scan, just send. If you need to scan to decide whether you can keep the patient, use the best ALARA* technique you can. And trauma centers, please send a copy of your CT protocols to your referring hospitals so they can get the best images possible.
*ALARA = As low as reasonably achievable (applied to radiation exposure). Also known as ALARP outside of North America (as low as reasonably practicable). Click here for more info.
Yesterday, I wrote about using ultrasound in place of CT for initial diagnosis of blunt abdominal injury in children. Although it looks good for identification of solid organ injury and free fluid, it may miss injury to the intestine. Is that bad?
Lets look at a recent study that examined the consequences of delayed laparotomy for blunt intestinal injury. The American Pediatric Surgical Association conducted an 18-center study of the management of intestinal injuries in children less than 16 years of age. They were stratified by time to treatment. There were 214 patients with complete data records for review.
The majority of the patients were involved in a motor vehicle crash or a bicycle accident. Demographics were similar in all time to treatment groups. Half were resuscitated at a referring hospital and then transferred to a pediatric trauma center, on average after 6 hours.
The only deaths occurred in the 0-6hr and 6-12hr groups. The average Injury Severity Score of the children who died was significantly higher than survivors.
Children operated on in the 0-6hr group had significantly higher ISS as well.
There was no difference in early or late complications across all groups.
Time to beginning oral intake and time in hospital were the same in all groups.
The authors concluded that observation and serial exam rather than urgent exploration or repeated CT scans is appropriate.
Bottom line: If you combine this study with the ultrasound study I reviewed yesterday, it seems appropriate to modify the usual (read: adult) way of evaluating blunt trauma to the abdomen. In place of automatically getting a CT scan of the abdomen in children, obtain a complete abdominal ultrasound to detect solid organ injury or free fluid. This will determine the degree of monitoring needed (e.g. ICU for higher grade liver or spleen injuries). Follow this with serial abdominal exam. If the child becomes symptomatic, it’s probably time to proceed to the OR.Note: I generally do not make children npo during the observation phase. They need to eat, and if they don’t want to, that tells you something.
Pediatric blunt abdominal trauma is not common, but if present it has the potential to cause significant morbidity or mortality. Evaluation of the abdomen at the trauma center is crucial, and most trauma professionals are aware of the trade-offs in the use of CT scan in children (radiation exposure, need for sedation).
Ultrasound is widely available and allows for imaging of most areas of concern in the abdomen. Could sonography be used in place of CT in specific cases? Pediatric surgeons in Germany (who have been using ultrasound far longer than the US has) published a paper last year looking at their experience with children who were diagnosed with an intra-abdominal organ injury after blunt trauma. Their 7 year experience only produced 35 such children, and they were evaluated with examination and one or more serial FAST ultrasound exams. Equivocal results were scanned with CT.
They found that ultrasound was effective in diagnosing abdominal injury 97% of the time. Although 11 of the 35 children had subsequent CT scanning, it only changed management in one case.
Bottom line: Obviously, this is a very small retrospective series, but it is provocative. The German pediatric surgeons go above and beyond the typical FAST exam in the US, using it for diagnostic purposes as well. Could a complete diagnostic ultrasound take the place of CT in select children in the US? Probably so, as they are very sensitive in detecting free fluid and solid organ injury. But what about blunt intestinal injury? I’ll review that tomorrow and sum up my thoughts on a possible algorithm.
Algorithm For Clearing the Pediatric Cervical Spine
I previously wrote about a straightforward way to clear the cervical spine in children. Click here to see the article. Alfred I. DuPont Children’s Hospital has condensed their clearance technique into a relatively simple algorithm that can be used in conjunction with my previous tips.
Some notes on this algorithm:
Can be performed only by attending physicians or a trauma resident in consultation with the attending trauma surgeon
Clinical clearance alone may be carried out in select cases
If radiographs are required, cross-table lateral, anterior/posterior, and odontoid views should be obtained (age 8 and above, non-intubated)
Flexion / extension views should only be ordered in consultation with neurosurgery
Last week I wrote about pneumomediastinum in children (click here to read). This week I’ll talk about a somewhat more common problem: pneumothorax. This condition is far more mysterious than in adults.
Sports related pneumothorax rarely occurs without rib fractures, which are themselves uncommon in children. The usual mechanism is barotrauma, most likely from an impact while the glottis is closed. The typical presentation is that of pleuritic chest pain, which may be followed by dyspnea. Focal chest wall tenderness is typically absent. Teenagers tend to engage in more strenuous activity and are more likely to actually sustain a rib fracture, so they may have focal tenderness over the fracture site.
Spontaneous pneumothorax in children is also uncommon. However, it is a very different entity. It may be related to blebs in the lungs, and may be more common in children who were born prematurely. The recurrence rate after successful treatment is approximately 50% (in small series). Recurrence is not predictable by looking for blebs on chest CT. The recurrence rate is significantly lower after VATS.
Bottom line: A child who complains of pleuritic chest pain, and especially dyspnea, should undergo a simple PA chest xray. If a pneumothorax is present, consider the following:
Insert a small chest tube or catheter if needed, the smaller the better. (I’m stilling looking for the answer to the question of how big a pneumothorax is big enough)
Don’t use high inspired oxygen; it doesn’t work. (Read my older blogs from 2010 – this one and this one, too)
Don’t get a chest CT for either the initial pneumothorax or any recurrences (too much radiation, too little utility)
If this is a spontaneous pneumothorax, caution the parents on the possibility of recurrence
If a spontaneous pneumothorax does recur, consult a pediatric surgeon to consider VATS pleurodesis
When can the child return to sports? There is absolutely no good literature. I recommend the usual time it takes most soft tissues to return to full tensile strength after injury (6 weeks).
Management of primary spontaneous pneumothorax in children. Clin Pediatr, online ahead of print, April 11, 2011.
Sports-related pneumothorax in children. Pediatric Emergency Care 21(4): 259-260, 2005.