Tag Archives: pelvic fracture

Pelvic Fractures: OR vs Angio In The Unstable Patient

One of the cardinal rules of trauma care is that hemodynamically unstable patients can only go the the operating room from the ED. No trips to CT, xray, etc. Trauma professionals occasionally try to make exceptions to the rule, but it usually doesn’t work out.

Well, what about the patient with severe pelvic fractures who is or becomes unstable? Pelvic fracture bleeding is not always easy or even possible to control in the OR, and angiography offers a way to identify and stop the bleeding, right?

The trauma group at Ryder in Miami did a lengthy (13 year) retrospective review of their experience with these patients. They looked at every patient who underwent angiography, then identified the subset that went to the OR followed by angiography. There were 134 angio patients and 49 OR to angio patients on whom they based their analysis. Obviously, there is plenty of opportunity for bias in this study, and many of the study patients identified had to be excluded due to incomplete records.

Patients who went to the OR first tended to have similar injury severity but were sicker than the angio alone group. Crystalloid and blood resuscitation volumes were significantly higher in the OR group as well. Most of these patients underwent a laparotomy, and 64% had active intra-abdominal bleeding. None died in OR, and most were left with a damage control abdominal closure.

In the angio group, there were really 2 subsets: angio alone, and angio followed by OR. Mortality in the angio alone group was similar to the OR-angio group. But deaths skyrocketed in those who went from angio to OR (67% vs 20%). This is likely due to them failing angiographic management of bleeding. Three patients died in the angio suite.

Bottom line: There’s a lot of data in this paper, and some of the results can be explained by selection bias. However, they appear to support algorithms released by EAST and the WTA (see diagram above). In general, a trauma patient with severe pelvic fractures and hemodynamic instability needs to go to OR to identify and treat any source of intra-abdominal bleeding. If pelvic bleeding remains a problem, preperitoneal packing may be considered, followed by a trip to angio at that point. The rule that unstable patients should only go to OR (or an ambulance bound for a trauma center if there is no OR) still holds!

Reference: Operating room or angiography suite for hemodynamically unstable pelvic fractures? J Trauma 72(2):364-372, 2012.

Quiz: There is just one extremely rare reason that I know of to move to CT with a hemodynamically unstable trauma patient. Leave a comment with your guess.

Pelvic Trauma Radiographs Demystified

Although we are becoming increasingly reliant on CT scans for diagnosis, plain old radiographs still have their place. This is especially true in pelvic imaging after trauma. 

The most common pelvic radiograph obtained is the supine A-P view taken during trauma resuscitation. This image gives a quick and dirty look at the entire pelvis, from iliac crest to ischial tuberosity. The main areas of interest are the pubic symphysis and the SI joints, so if some of the periphery is cut off a repeat is not necessary prior to CT scan. This image helps predict the need for blood and pelvic compression devices.

If fractures are present, the orthopedic surgeons will generally request additional views in addition to the CT scan. The scan gives excellent detail, but the axial image slices are still not as good as a plain old radiograph in many cases.

Inlet and outlet views are used to get a better look at the pelvic ring. The inlet view opens the ring up into a big circle (or oval) and allows identification of fractures of the sacrum or displacement of the SI joints, as well as changes in the pubic symphysis. The outlet view shows any vertical displacements through the sacrum or SI joints well, and gives a better appreciation of some pubic fractures.

Judet views help demonstrate acetabular fractures by lining up the iliac wing with the xray tube. They can give additional information that the orthopedists use for determining operative or nonoperative management.

Rule of thumb: For major trauma patients, obtain an A-P pelvis radiograph if indicated by mechanism of injury or physical exam. Perform CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis if indicated. If a pelvic ring fracture is identified, obtain inlet and outlet radiographs before calling your orthopedic surgeon. If an acetabular fracture is seen, obtain Judet views before calling.

Compression Of The Fractured Pelvis With A Sheet

Fractures of the posterior pelvis are notorious for their potential to bleed. Here are some tips to use if you encounter a trauma patient with an unstable pelvis and want to slow down the bleeding in the ED.

First, figure out what type of pelvic fracture it is. You will probably be able to do this using physical exam and a simple A-P radiograph. Push down hard on the anterior superior iliac spines to see if the pelvis moves. If so, the patient has an anterior-posterior compression type fracture, and you will likely see diastasis of the pubic bones on the xray. These are amenable to compression maneuvers discussed here.

If the pelvis collapses with lateral compression of the iliac wings, then the patient has a lateral compression fracture and compression maneuvers should not be used. Similarly, if a vertical shear is seen on the xray, do not use compression maneuvers.

There are several pieces of equipment available to help compress the pelvis:

  • Commercial pelvic compression product (e.g. T-Pod). These are convenient but pricey.
  • MAST trousers – just inflate the abdominal compartment, not the legs. But who has these laying around any more?
  • Sheet – cheap and quick. Very effective if used properly.

To apply a sheet, it needs to be folded into a narrow band no more than 12 inches high. It should be passed under the patient’s legs and moved upwards. It must be centered over the greater trochanters. This will apply proper pressure, but will not cover the lower abdomen (think laparotomy) or the genitalia (think urinary catheter). Cross the ends of the sheet over as shown above, with one person holding the cinch point while the sheet is secured. This can be carried out with a knot or plastic clamps. Metal clamps will degrade CT or angiographic imaging and should not be used. The sheet should be left in place for the shortest period of time possible, as skin breakdown can occur.

The picture above on the left shows a sheet that is folded too wide (difficult to get enough tension, and covers the good stuff) and uses metal towel clips. The picture on the right shows the proper technique.

Predicting Bleeding In Patients With Stable Pelvic Fractures

Bleeding is a well-recognized complication of severe pelvic fracture. Certain fracture patterns, usually with significant involvement of the posterior portions of the ring, are associated with significant bleeding. Most of these fractures are unstable to some degree.

Stable pelvic fractures (those that do not require internal or external fixation) are not generally prone to a large amount of bleeding. However, it can occur on occasion, and surgeons at the Massachusetts General Hospital have devised a simple prediction system so patients more likely to bleed can be identified and monitored more closely.

They retrospectively looked at their stable pelvic fracture population over 5+ years. A total of 391 patients with stable pelvic injury were identified. Of those, 280 never required transfusion and 111 did. Of the latter, only 15 bled from their stable pelvic fractures. 

The authors found the following three significant indicators of bleeding from stable pelvic fractures:

  • Admission hematocrit < 30%
  • Pelvic hematoma on CT
  • Any systolic blood pressure < 90 mm Hg

Bottom line: This is a simple, retrospective study with low numbers. However, the three indicators commonly indicate significant early bleeding in any trauma patient, so it makes sense to apply it here, too. If a patient meets one or two criteria, consider monitoring in the ICU and consider angiography. If all three or met, strongly consider appropriate intervention (angiography if good blood pressures can be maintained, or fixation and/or preperitoneal packing if not).

Reference: Predictors of bleeding from stable pelvic fractures. Arch Surg 146(4):407-411, 2010.

Bleeding and Pelvic Fractures

Arterial bleeding from a pelvic fracture is more common than previously thought. The doctor books used to say that 10% of bleeding was arterial and 90% was venous, so angiographic techniques were seldom used unless there was clinical evidence of blood loss. 

It looks like arterial bleeding occurs more frequently than we think. Here are tips that help you identify patients at risk:

  • What type of mechanism caused the fracture? Anterior-posterior compression and vertical shear are the most common.
  • Are the vital signs stable? If not, rule out the other four likely sources first (chest, abdomen, multiple extremity fractures, external). Then blame the pelvis.
  • Is the fracture open? Arterial bleeding is very likely.
  • How old is the patient? Elderly patients are more likely to have arterial bleeding, especially from gluteal artery branches.
  • What part of the pelvis is broken? If major sacral fractures, SI joint disruption or separation of the symphysis is present, think arterial bleeding.
  • Are there CT abnormalities? A vascular blush or large hematoma indicates significant bleeding.

The most common bleeding sites are the gluteal and pudendal arteries. The gluteal is in proximity to the SI joint, so this can be torn if the SI joint is damaged or the sacrum is fractured. The pudendal can be injured with ramus fractures, especially when the symphysis is widened.

If the patient can be reasonably stabilized, then a trip to interventional radiology is mandatory. Operative management is not very successful, so patients with blood pressure lability or controllable hypotension should go to IR. All active bleeding and arterial cutoffs should be embolized thoroughly.

Images: On the left is the portable plain image of a vertical shear pelvic fracture. The arrows on the right point to two areas of vascular blush.

Pelvic arterial bleeding