Objective: Trauma victims with hypotension require a rapid and reliable localization of bleeding and expedient surgical triage. Our hypothesis is that emergent abdominal sonography (EAS) is a rapid and accurate test of the need for urgent laparotomy in blunt trauma victims with hypotension.
Methods: Among 400 blunt trauma victims entered in a prospective blind study of EAS, a subgroup of 69 (17%) patients had a systolic blood pressure < or = 90 mm Hg during their initial assessment. Although the EAS results [(+) = fluid, (-) = no fluid] were not used in clinical decision making, the potential contribution of EAS to patient care was examined.
Results: The mean Injury Severity Score was 32. Twenty-two (32%) patients were EAS (+), of which 19 required an acute laparotomy. No laparotomies were performed in the 47 EAS (-) patients. The EASs required 19 +/- 5 seconds in the EAS (+) group and 154 +/- 13 seconds in the EAS (-) group. Twenty of the 22 positive EASs had free fluid in Morison's pouch. All 13 patients with an ultrasound score > or = 3 had a laparotomy. The primary etiology of hypotension was blood loss in 42 patients, hemoperitoneum in 18, and retroperitoneal hemorrhage in 12.
Conclusion: EAS is a rapid and accurate indicator of the need for urgent laparotomy in the hypotensive blunt trauma victim. Further, a negative EAS can hasten the search for other causes of hypotension. Diagnostic peritoneal lavage may become obsolete in centers with EAS capabilities.