The use of chest computed tomography versus chest X-ray in patients with major blunt trauma

Matthias Traub, Mark Stevenson, Suzanne McEvoy, Greg Briggs, Sing Kai Lo, Steven Leibman, Tony Joseph
Injury 2007, 38 (1): 43-7

INTRODUCTION: Computed tomography (CT) scans are often used in the evaluation of patients with blunt trauma. This study identifies the clinical features associated with further diagnostic information obtained on a CT chest scan compared with a standard chest X-ray in patients sustaining blunt trauma to the chest.

METHODS: A 2-year retrospective survey of 141 patients who attended a Level 1 trauma centre for blunt trauma and had a chest CT scan and a chest X-ray as part of an initial assessment was undertaken. Data extracted from the medical record included vital signs, laboratory findings, interventions and the type and severity of injury.

RESULTS: The CT chest scan is significantly more likely to provide further diagnostic information for the management of blunt trauma compared to a chest X-ray in patients with chest wall tenderness (OR=6.73, 95% CI=2.56, 17.70, p<0.001), reduced air-entry (OR=4.48, 95% CI=1.33, 15.02, p=0.015) and/or abnormal respiratory effort (OR=4.05, 95% CI=1.28, 12.66, p=0.017). CT scan was significantly more effective than routine chest X-ray in detecting lung contusions, pneumothoraces, mediastinal haematomas, as well as fractured ribs, scapulas, sternums and vertebrae.

CONCLUSION: In alert patients without evidence of chest wall tenderness, reduced air-entry or abnormal respiratory effort, selective use of CT chest scanning as a screening tool could be adopted. This is supported by the fact that most chest injuries can be treated with simple observation. Intubated patients, in most instances, should receive a routine CT chest scan in their first assessment.

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