Determining the need for laparotomy in penetrating torso trauma: a prospective study using triple-contrast enhanced abdominopelvic computed tomography

J Trauma. 2001 Nov;51(5):860-8; discussion 868-9. doi: 10.1097/00005373-200111000-00007.


Background: The nontherapeutic laparotomy rate in penetrating abdominal trauma remains high and the morbidity rate in these cases is approximately 40%. Selective management, rather than mandatory laparotomy, has become a popular approach in both stab wounds and gunshot wounds. The advent of spiral technology has stimulated a reassessment of the role of computed tomography (CT) in many aspects of trauma care. We prospectively investigated the current utility of triple-contrast CT as a diagnostic tool to facilitate initial therapeutic management decisions in penetrating torso trauma.

Methods: We studied hemodynamically stable patients with penetrating injury to the torso (abdomen, pelvis, flank, back, or lower chest) without definite indication for laparotomy, admitted to our trauma center during the 1-year period from 7/99 through 6/00. Patients underwent triple-contrast enhanced spiral CT as the initial study. A positive CT scan was defined as any evidence of peritoneal violation (free air or fluid, contrast leak, or visceral injury). Patients with positive CT, except those with isolated solid viscus injury, underwent laparotomy. Patients with negative CT were observed.

Results: There were 75 consecutive patients studied: mean age 30 years (range 15-85 years); 67 (89%) male; 41 (55%) gunshot wound, 32 (43%) stab wound, 2 (3%) shotgun wound; mean admission systolic blood pressure 141 mm Hg (range 95-194 mm Hg); 26 (35%) had positive CT and 49 (65%) had negative CT. In patients with positive CT, 18 (69%) had laparotomy: 15 therapeutic, 2 nontherapeutic, and 1 negative. Five patients had isolated hepatic injury and 2 had hepatic and diaphragm injury on CT and all were successfully managed without laparotomy. Of these seven patients, three had angioembolization and two had thoracoscopic diaphragm repair. In patients with negative CT, 47/49 (96%) had successful nonoperative management and 1 had negative laparotomy. The single CT-missed peritoneal violation had a left diaphragm injury at laparotomy. CT accurately predicted whether laparotomy was needed in 71/75 (95%) patients.

Conclusion: In penetrating torso trauma, triple-contrast abdominopelvic CT can accurately predict need for laparotomy, exclude peritoneal violation, and facilitate nonoperative management of hepatic injury. Adjunctive angiography and investigation for diaphragm injury may be prudent.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Abdominal Injuries / surgery
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laparotomy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / standards*
  • Wounds, Penetrating / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Penetrating / surgery


  • Contrast Media