False-negative FAST examination: associations with injury characteristics and patient outcomes

Ann Emerg Med. 2012 Sep;60(3):326-34.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2012.01.023. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


Study objective: Focused assessment with sonography in trauma (FAST) is widely used for evaluating patients with blunt abdominal trauma; however, it sometimes produces false-negative results. Presenting characteristics in the emergency department may help identify patients at risk for false-negative FAST result or help the physician predict injuries in patients with a negative FAST result who are unstable or deteriorate during observation. Alternatively, false-negative FAST may have no clinical significance. The objectives of this study are to estimate associations between false-negative FAST results and patient characteristics, specific abdominal organ injuries, and patient outcomes.

Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study including consecutive patients who presented to an urban Level I trauma center between July 2005 and December 2008 with blunt abdominal trauma, a documented FAST, and pathologic free fluid as determined by computed tomography, diagnostic peritoneal lavage, laparotomy, or autopsy. Physicians blinded to the study purpose used standardized abstraction methods to confirm FAST results and the presence of pathologic free fluid. Multivariable modeling was used to assess associations between potential predictors of a false-negative FAST result and false-negative FAST result and adverse outcomes.

Results: During the study period, 332 patients met inclusion criteria. Median age was 32 years (interquartile range 23 to 45 years), 67% were male patients, the median Injury Severity Score was 27 (interquartile range 17 to 41), and 162 (49%) had a false-negative FAST result. Head injury was positively associated with false-negative FAST result (odds ratio [OR] 4.9; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5 to 15.7), whereas severe abdominal injury was negatively associated (OR 0.3; 95% CI 0.1 to 0.5). Injuries to the spleen (OR 0.4; 95% CI 0.24 to 0.66), liver (OR 0.36; 95% CI 0.21 to 0.61), and abdominal vasculature (OR 0.17; 95% CI 0.07 to 0.38) were also negatively associated with false-negative FAST result. False-negative FAST result was not associated with mortality (OR 0.89; 95% CI 0.42 to 1.9), prolonged ICU length of stay (relative risk 0.88; 95% CI 0.69 to 1.12), or total hospital length of stay (relative risk 0.92; 95% CI 0.76 to 1.12). However, patients with false-negative FAST results were substantially less likely to require therapeutic laparotomy (OR 0.31; 95% CI 0.19 to 0.52).

Conclusion: Patients with severe head injuries and minor abdominal injuries were more likely to have a false-negative than true-positive FAST result. On the other hand, patients with spleen, liver, or abdominal vascular injuries are less likely to have false-negative FAST examination results. Adverse outcomes were not associated with false-negative FAST examination results, and in fact patients with false-negative FAST result were less likely to have a therapeutic laparotomy. Further studies are needed to assess the strength of these findings.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Adult
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Laparotomy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peritoneal Lavage
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging
  • Young Adult