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[Shock room diagnosis in polytrauma. Value of thoracic CT].

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this prospective study was to evaluate whether early thoracic computed tomography (TCT) is superior to routine chest X-ray (CXR) in the diagnostic work-up of blunt thoracic trauma and whether the additional information obtained influences subsequent decisions on therapy in the early management of severely injured patients.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: In a prospective study of 103 consecutive patients with clinical or radiological signs of chest trauma (94 multiply injured patients with chest trauma, 9 patients with isolated chest trauma) who had an average ISS of 30 and an average AIS thorax of 3, initial CXR and TCT were compared after the first assessment in our emergency department (a level I trauma center). Mortality in this group was 10% (n = 10).

RESULTS: In 67 patients (65%) TCT revealed major complications of chest trauma that had been missed on CXR: lung contusion (n = 33), pneumothorax (n = 27), residual pneumothorax after chest tube placement (n = 7), hemothorax ((n = 21), displaced chest tube (n = 5), diaphragmatic rupture (n = 2), myocardial rupture (n = 1); in 11 patients only minor additional pathologic findings (dystelectasis, small pleural effusion) were visualized on TCT; and in 14 patients CXR and TCT showed identical pathologic results. In 11 patients neither CXR nor TCT revealed pathologic findings. The TCT scan was significantly more effective than routine CXR in detecting lung contusions (P < 0.001), pneumothorax (P < 0.005) and hemothorax (P < 0.05). In 42 patients (41%) the additional TCT findings did affect, the therapy selected: chest tube placement or chest tube correction in mostly anteriorly located pneumothoraces or large hemothoraces (n = 31), influence on ventilation mode and respiratory care (n = 14), influence on the management of fracture stabilization (n = 12), laparotomy in cases of diaphragmatic lacerations (n = 2), bronchoscopy for atelectasis (n = 2), exclusion of aortic rupture (n = 2), endotracheal intubation (n = 1), pericardiocentesis (n = 1).

CONCLUSIONS: TCT is highly sensitive in detecting thoracic injuries after blunt chest trauma and is superior to routine CXR in visualizing lung contusions and pneumo- and hemothorax. Early TCT influences therapeutic management in a considerable subset of patients. We therefore recommend TCT in the primary diagnostic work-up of multiple injured patients with suspected chest trauma, because early and accurate diagnosis of all thoracic injuries along with acceptance of the implications for therapy may reduce complications and improve the outcome in polytraumatized patients with blunt chest trauma.

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