Emergency department thoracotomy in children: A Pediatric Trauma Society, Western Trauma Association, and Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma systematic review and practice management guideline

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2023 Sep 1;95(3):432-441. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000003879. Epub 2023 Mar 11.


Background: The role of emergency department resuscitative thoracotomy (EDT) in traumatically injured children has not been elucidated. We aimed to perform a systematic review and create evidence-based guidelines to answer the following PICO (population, intervention, comparator, and outcome) question: should pediatric patients who present to the emergency department pulseless (with or without signs of life [SOL]) after traumatic injuries (penetrating thoracic, penetrating abdominopelvic, or blunt) undergo EDT (vs. no EDT) to improve survival and neurologically intact survival?

Methods: Using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation methodology, a group of 12 pediatric trauma experts from the Pediatric Trauma Society, Western Trauma Association, and Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma assembled to perform a systematic review. A consensus conference was conducted, a database was queried, abstracts and manuscripts were reviewed, data extraction was performed, and evidence quality was determined. Evidence tables were generated, and the committee voted on guideline recommendations.

Results: Three hundred three articles were identified. Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria and were used for guideline creation, providing 319 pediatric patients who underwent EDT. No data were available on patients who did not undergo EDT. For each PICO, the quality of evidence was very low based on the serious risk of bias and serious or very serious imprecision.

Conclusion: Based on low-quality data, we make the following recommendations. We conditionally recommend EDT when a child presents pulseless with SOL to the emergency department following penetrating thoracic injury, penetrating abdominopelvic injury and after blunt injury if emergency adjuncts point to a thoracic source. We conditionally recommend against EDT when a pediatric patient presents pulseless without SOL after penetrating thoracic and penetrating abdominopelvic injury. We strongly recommend against EDT in the patient without SOL after blunt injury.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Consensus
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic
  • Thoracotomy
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating* / surgery
  • Wounds, Penetrating* / surgery