Quantifying delays in the recognition and management of acute compartment syndrome

CJEM. 2001 Jan;3(1):26-30. doi: 10.1017/s148180350000511x.


Objective: To identify where most efforts should be made to decrease ischemia time and necrosis in acute compartment syndrome (ACS) and to determine the causes for late interventions.

Methods: This was a multicentre, historical cohort study of patients who underwent fasciotomy for ACS within the McGill Teaching Hospitals between 1989 and 1997. Patients studied had a clinical diagnosis of ACS or compartment pressures greater than 30 mm Hg. In all cases, ACS was confirmed at the time of fasciotomy. Patients were stratified into traumatic and non-traumatic groups, and a step-by-step analysis was performed for each part of the process between injury and operation.

Results: Among the 62 traumatic ACS cases, the longest delays occurred between initial assessment and diagnosis (median time 2h56, range from 0 to 99h20) and between diagnosis and operation (median 2h13, range 0h15-29h45). Among the 14 non-traumatic ACS cases, delays primarily occurred between inciting event and hospital presentation (median 9h19, range 0h04-289h29) and between initial assessment and diagnosis (median 8h18, range 0-104h15).

Conclusions: ACS is a limb-threatening condition for which early intervention is critical. Substantial delays occur after the time of patient presentation. For traumatic and non-traumatic ACS, increased physician awareness and faster operating room access may reduce treatment delays and prevent disability.