Delayed repair for blunt thoracic aortic injury: is it really equivalent to early repair?

Mark R Hemmila, Saman Arbabi, Stephen A Rowe, Mary-Margaret Brandt, Stewart C Wang, Paul A Taheri, Wendy L Wahl
Journal of Trauma 2004, 56 (1): 13-23

BACKGROUND: Blunt thoracic aortic injury (BTAI) is a severe injury that traditionally has mandated immediate surgical repair. Delaying operative intervention for BTAI can allow other life-threatening injuries to be managed first, but potentially increases the risk of aortic rupture and death. The objective of this study was to evaluate the outcome of delayed repair (DR) compared with early repair (ER) for BTAI and to assess the effectiveness of a protocol for medical control of systolic blood pressure and heart rate in those patients whose repairs were delayed.

METHODS: This study is a retrospective review of University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) data from January 1, 1992, through March 1, 2003. ER was defined as operative repair within 16 hours from the time of injury. A similar analysis was conducted for patients with BTAI selected from the National Trauma Data Bank.

RESULTS: For the UMHS data, there were 45 patients in the DR group and 33 patients in the ER group. Mortality in the ER group versus the DR group was 9% versus 20%. Multivariate analysis adjusting for age, Injury Severity Score, abdominal Abbreviated Injury Scale score, Glasgow Coma Scale score, and intubation status demonstrated an odds ratio for death from ER compared with DR of 1.72 (p = 0.57). Patients undergoing DR had an absolute increase in hospital length of stay (33.1 vs. 20.9 days) and complication rate (2.1 vs. 1.5 incidents per patient). A similar result was obtained for multivariate analysis of the National Trauma Data Bank data, with an odds ratio of 1.40 (p = 0.51) for death from ER versus DR. UMHS patients whose repairs were delayed achieved target systolic blood pressure and heart rate for 76% and 74% of the hourly measurements recorded, respectively.

CONCLUSION: Patients with BTAI can safely undergo delayed aortic repair if other injuries warrant a higher treatment priority without increasing their overall risk of mortality. Delayed repair is, however, associated with a higher complication rate.

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