CT manifestations of adrenal trauma: experience with 73 cases

Emerg Radiol. 2007 Mar;13(6):313-8. doi: 10.1007/s10140-006-0563-z. Epub 2007 Jan 25.


Adrenal injuries, although an uncommon consequence of abdominal trauma, are important to recognize. If bilateral, adrenal trauma could result in life-threatening adrenal insufficiency. Furthermore, in the setting of trauma, adrenal injury can point to other concomitant injuries and has been associated with overall increased morbidity and mortality. In the past, before the advent of computed tomography (CT), detection was difficult, and the diagnosis was often made only at surgery or postmortem. Today, the diagnosis of adrenal injuries can be quickly and accurately made with CT. This retrospective review was carried out to identify, describe, and analyze different CT appearances of adrenal injuries and correlated with associated injuries and observed clinical context and outcomes. A patient cohort of CT-detected adrenal injuries was identified through a radiology software research tool by searching for keywords in radiology reports. The identified CT scans were reviewed and correlated with the patients' available clinical chart data and follow-up. Between April 1995 and October 2004, 73 cases of CT-detected adrenal injuries were identified, including 48 men and 25 women, with an age range 6 to 90 years and a mean age of 42.7 years. Of the cases, 77% were right-sided, 15% were left-sided, and 8% were bilateral. The causes of injuries were motor vehicle collisions (75%), falls (14%), sports related (4%), and miscellaneous causes (7%). Associated trauma included injuries of the liver (43%), spleen (23%), lung (19%), and kidney (18%), as well as pneumothoraces/hemothoraces (22%). Skeletal injuries included fractures of the ribs, clavicles, and/or scapulae (39%), pelvis and hips (30%), and the spine (23%). Isolated adrenal trauma was seen in only 4% of the cases. The CT findings of adrenal trauma were focal hematoma (30%), indistinct (27%) or enlarged (18%) adrenal gland, gross (15%) or focal (7%) adrenal hemorrhage, and adrenal mass (11%). Associated CT findings included periadrenal fat stranding (93%), retroperitoneal hemorrhage (22%), and thickened diaphragmatic crura (10%). Active adrenal bleeding was seen in one case (1.4%). The incidence of adrenal trauma was estimated to be 0.86%. Surgical management was required only for the associated injuries. The most common CT manifestations of adrenal trauma include focal hematoma, indistinct or ill-defined adrenal gland, adrenal enlargement or mass, and gross or focal adrenal hemorrhage in a normal-sized gland. Periadrenal stranding is very common. Retroperitoneal hemorrhage and crural thickening are also important associated findings. Operative intervention is typically required only for the associated injuries, which commonly accompany adrenal trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Glands / injuries*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / etiology


  • Contrast Media