[Can diagnosis and subsequent trauma management of the multiple trauma patient with blunt thoracic trauma be improved by early computerized tomography of the thorax?]

A W Trupka, K Trautwein, C Waydhas, D Nast-Kolb, K J Pfeiffer, L Schweiberer
Zentralblatt Für Chirurgie 1997, 122 (8): 666-73

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 these additional informations influence subsequent therapeutical decisions 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 multiple injured patients with chest trauma, 9 patients with isolated chest trauma) with an average ISS of 30 and an average AIS thorax of 3 initial CXR and TCT were compared after first assessment in our emergency department of a level I trauma center.

RESULTS: In 67 patients (65%) TCT detected major complications of chest trauma, that have 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 the same pathological results. 11 patients had both CXR and TCT without pathological 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 resulted in a change of therapy: chest tube placement or chest tube correction of pneumothoraces or large hemothoraces (n = 31), change in mode of ventilation 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, 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 exact diagnosis of all thoracic injuries along with sufficient therapeutic consequences may reduce complications and improve outcome of severely injured patients with blunt chest trauma.

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