Failure of observation of blunt splenic injury in adults: variability in practice and adverse consequences

Andrew B Peitzman, Brian G Harbrecht, Luis Rivera, Brian Heil
Journal of the American College of Surgeons 2005, 201 (2): 179-87

BACKGROUND: The Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma Multiinstitutional Workgroup reported a failure rate for nonoperative management of blunt splenic injury in adults of 10.8%. Sixty percent of the failures occurred within 24 hours of admission. The purpose of this multiinstitutional study by the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma was to determine common variables in failure of nonoperative management of blunt splenic injury in adults.

STUDY DESIGN: Medical records were reviewed in a blinded fashion on 78 patients in whom nonoperative management failed. Statistical analysis was performed with ANOVA, extended chi-square, and Fisher's exact test; statistical significance was p<0.05.

RESULTS: The 78 patients were categorized based on hemodynamic status. Forty-four percent were stable; 31% had transient hypotension or tachycardia that resolved with fluid infusion (responders); and 25% were unstable. Two-thirds of the unstable patients required laparotomy within 12 hours of admission; all had laparotomy within 72 hours. Mortality was significantly different when comparing the unstable to the stable and responder groups: stable (3%), responders (8%), and unstable (37%), despite similar age and only modest differences in Injury Severity Score. Eight CT scans were misinterpreted initially. Of 26 Focused Abdominal Sonography for Trauma (FAST) studies, 11 (42.3%) were false negative. Abnormal abdominal findings were noted in 67.7% of patients on admission. Ten patients died (12.8%). Sixty percent of the deaths were caused largely by delayed treatment of splenic or other abdominal injuries; one patient died in the responder group and five unstable patients died.

CONCLUSIONS: Thirty percent to 40% of the patients who had unsuccessful nonoperative management in this study were selected inappropriately, with hemodynamic instability or initial misinterpretation of diagnostic studies. As a consequence, the majority of the deaths were from delayed treatment of intraabdominal injuries. This article suggests that written protocols, better adherence to sound clinical judgment, and experienced and timely interpretation of radiologic studies would reduce the incidence of failure of nonoperative management of blunt splenic injury in adults.

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