Failure to normalize lymphopenia following trauma is associated with increased mortality, independent of the leukocytosis pattern

Crit Care. 2012 Jan 20;16(1):R12. doi: 10.1186/cc11157.


Introduction: Following trauma and systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), the typical response is an elevation of the total complete blood count (CBC) and a reduction of the lymphocyte count. This leukocytosis typically returns to normal within 48 hours. The persistence of a leukocytosis following trauma is associated with adverse outcomes. Although lymphocyte anergy and dysfunction following trauma is associated with increased risk for infection and sepsis, there is a paucity of data regarding the impact of a persistence of a low lymphocyte count in trauma patients.

Methods: This is a retrospective review of prospectively collected data from trauma patients collected over the 5 years of September 2003 to September 2008. Patients were included if the injury severity score (ISS) was >or=15, and they survived at least 3 days. Demographic data, mechanism and injury severity score, mortality, and length of stay were collected from the medical record. Laboratory values for the first 4 hospital days were collected. Leukocyte, neutrophil and lymphocyte counts were extracted from the daily complete blood count (CBC). Patients were then grouped based on response (elevation/depression) of each component of the CBC, and their return, or failure thereof, to normal. Proportional hazards regression with time-varying covariates as well as Kaplan-Meier curves were used to predict risk of death, time to death and time to healthy discharge based on fluctuations of the individual components of the CBC.

Results: There were 2448 patients admitted over the 5 years included in the analysis. When adjusting for age, gender and ISS the relative risk of death was elevated with a persistent leukocytosis (2.501 (95% CI=1.477-4.235)) or failure to normalize lymphopenia (1.639 (95% CI=10.17-2.643)) within the first 4 days following admission. Similar results were seen when Kaplan-Meier curves were created. Persistent lymphopenia was associated with shortest time to death. Paradoxically in survivors persistent lymphopenia was associated with the shortest time to discharge.

Conclusions: Persistently abnormal CBC responses are associated with a higher mortality following trauma. This is the first report noting that a failure to normalize lymphopenia in severely injured patients is associated with significantly higher mortality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Leukocytosis / mortality*
  • Leukocytosis / pathology
  • Leukocytosis / therapy*
  • Lymphopenia / mortality*
  • Lymphopenia / pathology
  • Lymphopenia / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Trauma Centers* / trends
  • Treatment Failure