Blunt splenic trauma in adults: can CT findings be used to determine the need for surgery?

C D Becker, P Spring, A Gl├Ąttli, W Schweizer
AJR. American Journal of Roentgenology 1994, 162 (2): 343-7

OBJECTIVE: The role of CT grading of blunt splenic injuries is still controversial. We studied the CT scans of adult patients with proved blunt splenic injuries to determine if the findings accurately reflect the extent of the injury. We were specifically interested in establishing if CT findings can be used to determine whether patients require surgery or can be managed conservatively.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The CT scans of 45 patients with blunt splenic injuries were analyzed retrospectively, and the CT findings were correlated with the need for surgery. We used (1) a CT scale (I-V) for splenic parenchymal injuries that also allowed a comparison with the surgical findings in patients who underwent laparotomy, and (2) a CT-based score (1-6) that referred to both the extent of parenchymal injuries and the degree of hemoperitoneum. Early laparotomy was done in nine patients. Conservative treatment was attempted in 36 patients and was successful in 31; five patients needed delayed laparotomy after attempted conservative treatment.

RESULTS: According to the CT scale (I-V), 25 patients had injuries of grade I or II; 20 patients were successfully treated conservatively, whereas five patients needed delayed surgery. Nineteen patients had injuries of grade III, IV, or V; eight patients underwent early laparotomy, and 11 patients were successfully treated conservatively. CT findings were false-negative in one patient who underwent early surgery for diaphragmatic rupture. A comparison of the CT findings with the intraoperative findings according to the CT scale (I-V) revealed identical parenchymal injury grades in four cases, whereas the injuries were underestimated on CT scans in four patients and overestimated on CT scans in six patients. The CT-based score (1-6) was applied to 41 patients; four patients who had peritoneal lavage before CT were excluded. Twelve patients had scores below 2.5; 10 patients were successfully treated conservatively, and two patients needed delayed surgery. Twenty-nine patients had scores of 2.5 or higher; six patients underwent early laparotomy, 20 patients were successfully treated conservatively, and three patients needed delayed surgery. Patients who required delayed surgery had a mean score of 3.0 (SD, +/- 1.0), which was similar to those who did not require surgery (3.1 +/- 1.5; p = .45).

CONCLUSION: Our results show that CT findings cannot be used to determine reliably which patients require surgery and which patients can be treated conservatively. Even patients with splenic parenchymal injuries of CT grade III, IV, and V and with CT-based scores of 2.5 or higher can be successfully treated conservatively if the clinical situation is appropriate, whereas delayed splenic rupture can still develop in patients with low CT grades or scores. The choice between operative and nonoperative management of splenic trauma should be mainly based on clinical findings rather than CT findings.

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