Background: Occult diaphragmatic injury following penetrating thoracoabdominal trauma can be difficult to diagnose. Radiographic findings are often non-specific or absent. Undetected injuries may remain clinically silent, only to present later with life-threatening complications associated with diaphragmatic herniation. Diagnostic laparoscopy allows for the evaluation of trauma patients lacking clinical indications for a formal laparotomy. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the incidence of occult diaphragmatic injury and investigate the role of laparoscopy in patients with penetrating thoracoabdominal trauma who lack indications for exploratory laparotomy except the potential for a diaphragmatic injury.
Methods: Haemodynamically stable patients with penetrating thoracoabdominal trauma without indications for laparotomy (haemodynamic instability, evisceration, or peritonitis on exam) and evaluated with diagnostic laparoscopy to determine the presence of a diaphragmatic injury were retrospectively reviewed. Thoracoabdominal wounds were defined as wounds bounded by the nipple line over the anterior and posterior chest superiorly and the costal margin inferiorly.
Results: One hundred and eight patients were evaluated for penetrating thoracoabdominal injuries (80 stabs and 28 gunshots) over the study period. 22 (20%) diaphragmatic injuries were identified. These were associated with injuries to the spleen (5), stomach (3) and liver (2). There was a greater incidence of haemopneumothorax (HPTX) in patients with diaphragmatic injury (32%) compared to those without injury (20%). 29% of patients with a HPTX had a diaphragmatic injury. However, 18% of patients with a normal chest radiograph were also found to have a diaphragmatic injury.
Conclusions: The incidence of diaphragmatic injury associated with penetrating thoracoabdominal trauma is high. Clinical and radiographic findings can be unreliable for detecting occult diaphragmatic injury. Diagnostic laparoscopy provides a vital tool for detecting occult diaphragmatic injury among patients who have no other indications for formal laparotomy.