The significance of contrast blush on computed tomography in children with splenic injuries

Nicolas Lutz, Soroosh Mahboubi, Michael L Nance, Perry W Stafford
Journal of Pediatric Surgery 2004, 39 (3): 491-4

PURPOSE: Most children and adults with blunt splenic injuries are treated nonoperatively by well-established management protocols. The "blush sign" is an active pooling of contrast material within or around the spleen seen during intravenous enhanced computed tomography (CT) scan. Adult treatment algorithms often include the "blush sign" as an indication for embolization or surgical intervention. This study was designed to evaluate the implications of the "blush sign" in children with blunt splenic injuries.

METHODS: A review was performed of all children with blunt splenic injuries treated between January 1996 and December 2001 at a level I pediatric trauma center using an established solid organ injury protocol. The demographic, CT imaging, and outcome data were recorded. Treatment was categorized as operative or nonoperative. A single pediatric radiologist retrospectively reviewed all available CT scans to confirm injury grade and the presence or absence of a "blush sign."

RESULTS: There were 133 eligible children admitted with blunt splenic trauma, with a mean age of 9.1 years (range, 1 to 15), including 86 children with an abdominal CT available for review. A "blush sign" on initial CT scan was noted in 6 children, all with grade 3 or above splenic injuries, 5 of who were treated nonoperatively. In this series, the single child with a "blush sign" who did not respond to nonoperative treatment had a severe polytrauma requiring urgent splenectomy and left nephrectomy. None of the children died of their splenic injury.

CONCLUSIONS: Although associated with higher grades of injury, the blush sign did not mandate embolization or surgical intervention in children with blunt splenic trauma in this series. Severe splenic injuries with a blush sign on the initial CT scan may be successfully treated nonoperatively when using an established treatment protocol. Management should be based primarily on physiological response to injury rather than the radiologic features of the injury.

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