Blunt splenic trauma: characteristics of patients requiring urgent laparotomy

Am Surg. 1998 May;64(5):450-4.


In victims of blunt abdominal trauma, the spleen is the most common organ damaged, it is the most likely source of serious injury, and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. The participants in this study were emergency department (ED) patients with splenic trauma determined via imaging study, surgical exploration, or autopsy. Patients were located using both the institution's trauma registry and discharge diagnoses (ICD-9 codes) involving splenic injury resulting from blunt trauma. Medical records including pre-hospital, ED, and hospital information were reviewed. Chi Square and Fisher's exact test were used for statistical analysis where appropriate, with a P value of less than 0.05 considered significant. Fifty-five patients (60% male) were analyzed with a mean age of 31 years (range, 1 to 78 years). Sixteen (30%) patients (mean age 44 years) were managed operatively, with 14 patients receiving only a diagnostic peritoneal lavage. All 38 patients (70%, mean age 26 years) who received nonoperative management were diagnosed by computed tomography. The motor vehicle crash represented the most frequent mechanism of injury in both groups; the nonoperative group, however, experienced other injury mechanisms more frequently. Clinical variables suggestive of the need for urgent surgical intervention (from ED to the surgical suite) include hypotension (systolic blood pressure less than 90 mm/Hg) in the pre-hospital setting or ED; tachycardia (heart rate greater than 100 beats/min) in the ED; abnormal hematocrit (less than 30) or coagulopathy (prothrombin time greater than 14 seconds) in the ED; multiple injuries; or blood transfusion in the ED. Complaints of pain resulting from traumatic injury and abdominal examination findings did not identify patients requiring urgent operative management. Hemodynamic instability, evidence of multiple injuries, abnormal laboratory parameters, and the requirement for blood transfusion in the ED identifies a patient population likely to require operative therapy of their splenic injury. Emergency physicians should consider early surgical consultation or urgent transfer to the regional trauma center in patients with these characteristics.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergencies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spleen / injuries*
  • Splenic Rupture / diagnosis
  • Splenic Rupture / surgery*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnosis
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / surgery*