Background: Haemorrhage in peripheral vascular injuries may cause life-threatening exsanguination. Tourniquets are used extensively by the military, with increased interest in the civilian setting to prevent deaths. This is a retrospective study of trauma patients at two large Canadian trauma centres with arterial injury after isolated extremity trauma. We hypothesized that tourniquet use may decrease mortality rate and transfusion requirements if applied early.
Methods: The study group was all adult patients at two Level 1 Trauma Centres in two Canadian cities in Canada, who had arterial injuries from extremity trauma. The study period was from January 2001 to December 2010. We excluded patients with significant associated injuries. The intervention in this study was prehospital tourniquet use. The main outcome was in-hospital mortality. Secondary outcomes were length of stay, compartment syndrome, amputation, and blood product transfusion.
Results: 190 patients were included in the study, and only 4 patients had a prehospital tourniquet applied. They arrived directly from the scene of injury, had improvised tourniquets by police or bystanders, and showed a trend to be more hypotensive and acidotic. Four other patients had tourniquets applied in the trauma bay within 1h of injury. There were no differences in age, sex, injury severity or physiologic presentation between patients who had an early tourniquet applied and those who died without a tourniquet. However, six patients died without a tourniquet, and all bled to death. Of the eight patients who had early tourniquets applied, none died.
Conclusions: Tourniquets may prevent exsanguination in the civilian setting for patients suffering either blunt or penetrating trauma to the extremity. Future studies will help determine the utility of deploying tourniquets in the civilian setting, given the rarity of exsanguinating haemorrhage from isolated extremity trauma in this setting.
Keywords: Haemorrhage; Peripheral vascular injury; Tourniquets; Trauma.
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