Tag Archives: penetrating injury

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.

EMS: Scoop and Run or Stay and Play for Trauma Care? Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at an older study that kind of examined the scoop and run vs stay and play debate.  Let’s move forward in time a little bit, and evaluate the two options in a penetrating trauma model.

This one is from the anesthesia and intensive care departments at the university hospital in Copenhagen. The authors prospectively captured information on 462 penetrating trauma victims, then looked up their 30 day survival status in a national administrative database.

Here are the factoids:

  • Only 95% of patient records (446) were available for 30 day review (better that in the US!)
  • Of those, 40 were dead (9%)
  • Using raw statistics, there seemed to be a significant increase in mortality if the prehospital crew was on scene more than 20 minutes
  • However, when corrected for age, sex, injury pattern, etc. there was no significant difference in survival for short vs longer scene stays
  • Multivariate analysis identified the number of procedures performed at the scene as a significant predictor of mortality, regardless of time

Bottom line: We still can’t seem to show a difference in patients who are tossed in the back of the squad and driven vs those who have IVs, immobilization, and other things done to begin resuscitation and increase safety prior to transport! However, the bit about number of procedures is intriguing. Is this just another surrogate for time? Are there unrecognized complications from them that affect survival?

Next time, I’ll look at a recent publication from the US that gives us yet another angle on this question.

Reference: On-scene time and outcome after penetrating trauma: an observational study. Emerg Med J 28(9):87-801, 2011.

Penetrating Injuries to the Extremities

Simple penetrating injuries to the arms and legs are often over-treated with invasive testing and admission for observation. Frequently, these injuries can be rapidly evaluated and disposed of using physical examination skills alone.

Stabs and low velocity gunshots (no rifles or shotguns, please) should be thoroughly examined. This includes an examination of the entire, unclothed body. If this is not carried out, there is a risk that additional penetrating injuries may be missed.

For gunshots, look at the wounds and the estimated trajectory to try to demonstrate that the object stayed clear of neurovascular structures. This exam is imprecise, and must be accompanied by a full neurovascular exam and evaluation of the bones and joints. If there is any doubt regarding bony involvement, plain radiographs with entry markers should be performed. Any abnormal findings will require more in-depth evaluation and inpatient admission.

If the exam is negative but the trajectory is “in proximity” to a major vessel, an arterial pressure index (API) should be measured. This test involves the calculation of the ratio of the systolic pressure in the injured extremity to the contralateral uninjured extremity. It should not be confused with the ankle brachial index (ABI) which compares the systolic pressure in the ipsilateral uninjured arm  or leg.

The magic ratio is 0.9. If the API is less than this, there is some likelihood that a vascular injury is present. If the API is higher, there is virtually no chance of injury.

The final test that must be performed before discharge is a function test. If the injured extremity is too painful to use or walk on, the patient may need to be admitted for pain management and therapy. Patients managed in this way can avoid arteriography, CT angiography or admission and save thousands of dollars in hospital charges.

Reference: Journal Am Coll Surgeons 2009;209:740-5.

Trauma Patient Transport By Police, Not EMS

When I was at Penn 25 years ago, I was fascinated to see that police officers were allowed to transport penetrating trauma patients to the hospital. They had no medical training and no specific equipment. They basically tossed the patient into the back seat, drove as fast as possible to a trauma center, and dropped them off. Then they (hopefully) hosed down the inside of the squad car.

Granted, it was fast. But did it benefit the patient? The group now at Penn decided to look at this to see if there was some benefit (survival) to this practice. They retrospectively looked at 5 years of data in the mid-2000’s, thus comparing the results of police transport with reasonably state of the art EMS transport.

They found over 2100 penetrating injury transports during this time frame (!), and roughly a quarter of those (27%) were transported by police. About 71% were gunshots vs 29% stabs. They found the following interesting information:

  • The police transported more badly injured patients (ISS=14) than EMS (ISS=10)
  • About 21% of police transports died, compared to 15% for EMS
  • But when mortality was corrected for the higher ISS transported by police, it was equivalent for the two modes of transport

Although they did not show a survival benefit to this practice, there was certainly no harm done. And in busy urban environments, such a policy could offload some of the workload from busy EMS services.

Bottom line: Certainly this is not a perfect paper. But it does add more fuel to the “stay and play” vs “scoop and run” debate. It seems to lend credence to the concept that, in the field, less is better in penetrating trauma. What really saves these patients is definitive control of bleeding, which neither police nor paramedics can provide. Therefore, whoever gets the patient to the trauma center in the least time wins. And so does the patient.

Related posts:

Reference: Injury-adjusted mortality of patients transported by police following penetrating trauma. Acad Emerg Med 18(1):32-37, 2011.