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South African Journal of Surgery

On-line version ISSN 2078-5151
Print version ISSN 0038-2361


HOWES, N. et al. Laparotomy for blunt abdominal trauma in a civilian trauma service. S. Afr. j. surg. [online]. 2012, vol.50, n.2, pp.30-32. ISSN 2078-5151.

This report looks at the group of patients who required a laparotomy for blunt torso trauma at a busy metropolitan trauma service in South Africa. METHODS: A prospective trauma registry is maintained by the surgical services of the Pietermaritzburg metropolitan complex. This registry is interrogated retrospectively. All patients who required admission for blunt torso trauma over the period September 2006 - September 2007 were included for review. Proformas documenting mechanism of injury, age, vital signs, blood gas, delay in presentation, length of hospital stay, intensive care unit stay and operative details were completed. RESULTS: A total of 926 patients were treated for blunt trauma by the Pietermaritzburg metropolitan services during the period under consideration. A cohort of 65 (8%) required a laparotomy for blunt trauma during this period. There were 17 females in this group. The mechanisms of injury were motor vehicle accident (MVA) (27), pedestrian vehicle accident (PVA) (21), assault (5), fall from a height (3), bicycle accident (6), quad bike accident (1) and tractor-related accident (2). The following isolated injuries were discovered at laparotomy: liver (9), spleen (5), diaphragm (1), duodenum (2), small bowel (8), mesentery (8), bladder (10), gallbladder (1), stomach (2), colon/rectum (2) and retrohepatic vena cava (1). The following combined injuries were discovered: liver and diaphragm (2), spleen and pancreas (1), spleen and liver (2), spleen, aorta and diaphragm (1), spleen and bladder (1) and small bowel and bladder (2). Eighteen patients in the series (26%) required relaparotomy. In 10 patients temporary abdominal containment was needed. The mortality rate was 26% (18 patients). There were 6 deaths from massive bleeding, all within 6 hours of operation, and 3 deaths from renal failure; the remaining 9 patients died of multiple organ failure. There were 8 negative laparotomies (7%). In the negative laparotomy group false-positive computed tomography (CT) scan findings were a problem in 3 cases, in 1 case hypotension and a fractured pelvis on admission prompted laparotomy, and in the other cases clinical findings prompted laparotomy. All patients who underwent negative laparotomy survived. There were 10 pelvic fractures, 5 lower limb fractures, 2 spinal injuries, 4 femur fractures and 2 upper limb fractures. CT scans were done in 25 patients. In 20 patients the systolic blood pressure on presentation was <90 mmHg and in 41 the pulse rate was >110 beats/min. In 16 patients there was a base excess of <-4 on presentation. CONCLUSION: Laparotomy is needed in less than 10% of patients who sustain blunt abdominal trauma. Solid visceral injury requiring laparotomy presents with haemodynamic instability. Hollow visceral injury has a more insidious presentation and is associated with a delay in diagnosis. CT scan is the most widely used investigation in blunt abdominal trauma. It is both sensitive and specific for solid visceral injury, but its accuracy for the diagnosis of hollow visceral injury is less well defined. Clinical suspicion must be high, and hollow visceral injury needs to be actively excluded.

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