Nonoperative management of blunt hepatic trauma is the treatment of choice for hemodynamically stable patients. Results of a prospective trial

M A Croce, T C Fabian, P G Menke, L Waddle-Smith, G Minard, K A Kudsk, J H Patton, M J Schurr, F E Pritchard
Annals of Surgery 1995, 221 (6): 744-53; discussion 753-5

BACKGROUND: A number of retrospective studies recently have been published concerning nonoperative management of minor liver injuries, with cumulative success rates greater than 95%. However, no prospective analysis that involves a large number of higher grade injuries has been reported. The current study was conducted to evaluate the safety of nonoperative management of blunt hepatic trauma in hemodynamically stable patients regardless of injury severity.

METHODS: Over a 22-month period, patients with blunt hepatic injury were evaluated prospectively. Unstable patients underwent laparotomies, and stable patients had abdominal computed tomography (CT) scans. Those with nonhepatic operative indications underwent exploration, and the remainder were managed nonoperatively in the trauma intensive care unit. This group was compared with a hemodynamically matched operated cohort of blunt hepatic trauma patients (control subjects) who had been prospectively analyzed.

RESULTS: One hundred thirty-six patients had blunt hepatic trauma. Twenty-four (18%) underwent emergent exploration. Of the remaining 112 patients, 12 (11%) failed observation and underwent celiotomy--5 were liver-related failures (5%) and 7 were nonliver related (6%). Liver related failure rates for CT grades I through V were 20%, 3%, 3%, 0%, and 12%, respectively, and rates according to hemoperitoneum were 2% for minimal, 6% for moderate, and 7% for large. The remaining 100 patients were successfully treated without operation--30% had minor injuries (grades I-II) and 70% had major (grades III-V) injuries. There were no differences in admission characteristics between nonoperative success or failures, except admission systolic blood pressure (127 vs. 104; p < 0.04). Comparing the nonoperative group to the control group, there were no differences in admission hemodynamics or hospital length of stay, but nonoperative patients had significantly fewer blood transfusions (1.9 vs. 4.0 units; p < 0.02) and fewer abdominal complications (3% vs. 11%; p < 0.04).

CONCLUSIONS: Nonoperative management is safe for hemodynamically stable patients with blunt hepatic injury, regardless of injury severity. There are fewer abdominal complications and less transfusions when compared with a matched cohort of operated patients. Based on admission characteristics or CT scan, it is not possible to predict failures; therefore, intensive care unit monitoring is necessary.

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