Routine helical computed tomographic evaluation of the mediastinum in high-risk blunt trauma patients

D Demetriades, H Gomez, G C Velmahos, J A Asensio, J Murray, E E Cornwell, K Alo, T V Berne
Archives of Surgery 1998, 133 (10): 1084-8

BACKGROUND: The indications and method of evaluation of the mediastinum in blunt deceleration trauma are controversial and vary among centers. Most centers practice a policy of angiographic evaluation only in the presence of an abnormal mediastinum on chest radiography. Routine aortography in the absence of any mediastinal abnormality is not widely practiced. Helical computed tomographic (CT) scan has been successfully used in recent studies in the evaluation of the thoracic aorta.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the role of routine helical CT scan evaluation of the mediastinum in patients involved in high-speed deceleration injuries, irrespective of chest radiographic findings.

DESIGN: A prospective study over a 1-year period. Included in the study were patients with high-speed deceleration injuries who required CT evaluation of the head or abdomen. This group of patients underwent routine helical CT evaluation of the mediastinum irrespective of chest radiographic findings.

SETTING: Large, urban, academic level I trauma center.

RESULTS: A total of 112 trauma patients fulfilled the criteria for study inclusion. Overall, there were 9 patients (8.0%) with aortic rupture. Four (44.4%) of these patients had a normal mediastinum on the initial chest x-ray film and the diagnosis was made by CT scan. The CT scan was diagnostic in 8 of the aortic ruptures (intimal tear or pseudoaneurysm) and was suggestive of aortic injury but not diagnostic in 1 patient with brachiocephalic artery injury. In 42 patients (37.5%), there was a widened mediastinum: an aortic rupture was diagnosed in 5 of them (11.9%) and a spinal fracture in 9 (21.4%). One patient had both aortic rupture and spinal injury.

CONCLUSIONS: The incidence of aortic injury in patients with high-speed deceleration injury is high. A significant proportion of patients with aortic injury have a normal mediastinum on the initial chest radiograph. There is a high incidence of spinal injuries in the presence of a widened mediastinum. We recommend that all trauma patients with high-risk deceleration injuries undergo routine helical CT evaluation of the mediastinum irrespective of chest radiographic findings.

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