Should computerised tomography replace endoscopy in the evaluation of symptomatic ingestion of corrosive substances?

K S Bonnici, D M Wood, P I Dargan
Clinical Toxicology 2014, 52 (9): 911-25

INTRODUCTION: Corrosive ingestions are common, although most ingestions do not result in clinically significant effects. Limited guidance is available on the role of endoscopy and/or computerised tomography (CT) in the investigation of individuals with corrosive ingestion, and the present data regarding predictors of poor outcome are confusing. Furthermore, whilst there are many case series describing the use of endoscopy in corrosive ingestions, no clear ideal time frame has been established as to when it should be undertaken. More recently, CT has been used to grade injuries, but there are few studies on its role in managing corrosive injuries, and those studies that have been reported are conflicting in their results.

METHODS: A Medline search was performed with the terms 'Caustic ingestion' and 'Corrosive ingestion' and a second search by adding the words 'Endoscopy', 'CT', and 'Computerised tomography' as a subject term or keyword. These searches revealed a total of 277 reviews and papers, of which 33 original papers were relevant for analysis. Three further papers were identified during the analysis of these papers and a PubMed search of the same terms added one further paper, bringing the total to 37. There have been no prospective, randomised controlled trials directly comparing endoscopy and CT. Only two retrospective studies compared the use of CT and that of endoscopy. Thirty-five studies examined whether an endoscopy is always needed, and if so, within what time frame this should be done: CT or endoscopy? A review of these studies suggests that the data regarding the use of CT in these circumstances are not yet of sufficient weight to replace endoscopy as the first-line investigation in corrosive ingestion-related injury. Who needs investigation after corrosive ingestion? We believe that signs and symptoms indicate the likelihood of clinically significant injury in adults. Specifically, any evidence of oropharyngeal burns, drooling, vomiting, pain or dysphagia clearly indicates the need for an endoscopy. In children, it appears that an even greater degree of caution is needed. How soon after ingestion should investigation be performed? For whom an endoscopy is required, it is prudent to enable surgery and other specifics regarding management of corrosives to be decided quickly (< 12 h). There are many incidences where endoscopy has been done safely beyond 48 h although this is not needed frequently. Management recommendations Asymptomatic patients, particularly adults with a normal clinical examination and who can eat and drink normally, can be discharged safely without endoscopy. Endoscopy is preferred over CT in the assessment of risk in symptomatic patients with corrosive ingestion. If patients have any oropharyngeal injury and in particular symptoms of drooling, vomiting, dysphagia or pain (retrosternal or otherwise), the risk of having a high-grade injury is higher, and urgent endoscopy should be performed to grade the injury and determine whether surgical intervention is required. Patients who have non-specific symptoms, such as cough, should also undergo endoscopy, but this is less urgent.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite the lack of high-quality clinical trial data, the available evidence and clinical experience support the use of early endoscopy (< 12 h) in patients who are symptomatic after ingestion of a corrosive substance. We propose a clinical guideline that can be used to help plan management of corrosives.

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