Overuse of splenic scoring and computed tomographic scans

M J Shapiro, C Krausz, R M Durham, J E Mazuski
Journal of Trauma 1999, 47 (4): 651-8

BACKGROUND: As the most commonly injured abdominal organ in blunt trauma, the management of splenic injury has undergone evolution. The risk of blood transfusions administered in an attempt to save the spleen has lowered the threshold for operation and also expanded the limits for nonoperative management. An in-depth analysis was carried out of risk factors on patients requiring immediate surgery and those who fail non-operative management based on organ injury scaling grading by computed tomographic (CT) scan and operation. The application of nonoperative management in the elderly population and the use of follow-up CT scanning and sonography in the outpatient setting was also examined.

METHODS: Between January of 1991 and June of 1996, 226 consecutive blunt splenic trauma, injured patients at a Level I trauma center were evaluated. All subsequent CT scans and sonograms in the inpatient and outpatient setting were analyzed. The Student's t test, Pearson chi2 analysis with Yates correction, and analysis of variance were used to compare between and among groups.

RESULTS: There were 153 men (67.7%), an average age of 34.8 years, an average Injury Severity Score of 24.4, and 28 deaths (12%). There was a significant difference with respect to Injury Severity Score, Glasgow Coma Scale score, Revised Trauma Score, units of packed red blood cells transfused, length of stay, intensive care unit length of stay, mean splenic injury grade, and cost between patients observed initially and those operated on initially. There was no significant difference in age between the two groups. Of 170 patients, 37 patients (22%) who had an initial CT scan underwent immediate exploratory laparotomy. The remaining 133 patients (78%) had nonoperative management; however, 15 patients (11%) failed the period of observation. Five in this group had a laparotomy secondary to other causes and another six were operated on within 24 hours of their injury for their splenic injury. Thus, only four of the nonoperative management patients (3%) actually failed nonoperative splenic management after 24 hours of injury. There were 100 second CT scans obtained. Three of these patients, who had developed hemodynamic instability, required operation for a bleeding spleen. The subsequent CT scan was confirmatory in these three patients who resided in the intensive care unit. All other CT scans and sonograms for clinically unremarkable patients failed to yield any alteration in care based on the scans.

CONCLUSION: Blunt splenic injured patients can be safely observed; however, there are certain risk factors in those requiring immediate surgery and those failing nonoperative management. The CT scan underestimates injury, possibly related to a progression of bleeding found at the time of operation. No outpatient studies altered the course of management. Age also did not influence outcome. Thus, in the dedicated trauma center, nonoperative management of blunt splenic injury patients does not lead to undue morbidity or mortality. Once discharged, follow-up radiographs in asymptomatic patients are not necessary.

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