Background: North American trauma centers are beginning to note the limitations of emergent torso sonography. The purpose of this prospective study was to evaluate the frequency, causes, associations, and sequelae of indeterminate (IND) sonograms in blunt trauma.
Methods: Among adult blunt trauma patients assessed with screening torso sonography, clinician sonographers recorded the abdominal sonogram as positive, negative, or IND for free fluid. Patients with IND sonograms were further investigated with repeat sonography, computed tomography, or diagnostic peritoneal lavage.
Results: Among 417 patients with blunt trauma (mean Injury Severity Score = 21) managed with sonography, there were 28 (6.7%) IND and 389 (93.3%) non-IND sonograms. Sonograms were IND because of patient factors in 71% (20 of 28) and because of operator factors in 29% (8 of 28). None of the 28 patients were managed with repeat sonography alone. All 4 diagnostic peritoneal lavage examinations gave negative results, whereas 8 of 23 computed tomographic scans were abnormal (6 of 8 patients underwent laparotomy). The mean time required for diagnostic workup was 117 minutes in the IND group and 48 minutes in the non-IND group (p < 0.001 in both cases).
Conclusion: This prospective study has demonstrated that IND sonograms are not common at our center (6.7%), are usually attributable to patient factors, and are associated with greater diagnostic time. Patients with IND sonograms require further investigation because they often have injuries requiring laparotomy.