Changing patterns in the management of splenic trauma: the impact of nonoperative management

Ann Surg. 1998 May;227(5):708-17; discussion 717-9. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199805000-00011.


Objective: The recognition that splenectomy renders patients susceptible to lifelong risks of septic complications has led to routine attempts at splenic conservation after trauma. In 1990, the authors reported that over an 11-year study period involving 193 patients, splenorrhaphy was the most common splenic salvage method (66% overall) noted, with nonoperative management employed in only 13% of blunt splenic injuries. This report describes changing patterns of therapy in 190 consecutive patients with splenic injuries seen during a subsequent 6-year period (1990 to 1996). An algorithmic approach for patient management and pitfalls to be avoided to ensure safe nonoperative management are detailed.

Methods: Nonoperative management criteria included hemodynamic stability and computed tomographic examination without shattered spleen or other injuries requiring celiotomy.

Results: Of 190 consecutive patients, 102 (54%) were managed nonoperatively: 96 (65%) of 147 patients with blunt splenic injuries, which included 15 patients with intrinsic splenic pathology, and 6 hemodynamically stable patients with isolated stab wounds (24% of all splenic stab wounds). Fifty-six patients underwent splenectomy (29%) and 32 splenorrhaphy (17%). The mean transfusion requirement was 6 units for splenectomy survivors and 0.8 units for nonoperative therapy (85% received no transfusions). Fifteen of the 16 major infectious complications that occurred followed splenectomy. Two patients failed nonoperative therapy (2%) and underwent splenectomy, and one patient required splenectomy after partial splenic resection. There no missed enteric injuries in patients managed nonoperatively. The overall mortality rate was 5.2%, with no deaths following nonoperative management.

Conclusions: Nonoperative management of blunt splenic injuries has replaced splenorrhaphy as the most common method of splenic conservation. The criteria have been extended to include patients previously excluded from this form of therapy. As a result, 65% of all blunt splenic injuries and select stab wounds can be managed with minimal transfusions, morbidity, or mortality, with a success rate of 98%. Splenectomy, when necessary, continues to be associated with excessive transfusion and an inordinately high postoperative sepsis rate.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sepsis / etiology
  • Spleen / injuries*
  • Splenectomy
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / therapy*