Purpose: Although computed tomographic (CT) scans are accurate in diagnosing solid-organ injuries, their ability to diagnose a blunt intestinal injury (BII) is limited, occasionally requiring repeated imaging. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of clinical findings as well as original and repeated CT imaging in the ultimate decision to operate for BII.
Methods: An 18-institution record review of children (≤15 years) diagnosed with a BII confirmed during surgery between 2002 and 2007 was conducted by the American Pediatric Surgery Association Trauma Committee. The incidence of imaging, repeated imaging, and final reported indications for operative exploration were evaluated.
Results: Among 331 patients identified with a BII, 292 (88%) underwent at least 1 abdominal CT scan. Sixty-two (19%) underwent at least 1 repeated scan before operation. Forty-seven percent of children who underwent a CT scan were taken to the operating room based primarily on clinical indications (fever, abdominal pain, shock or elevated white blood cell count), whereas 31% were operated on based on both a clinical and CT indication and 22% were operated on based on a CT indication alone (P < 0.001). Although free air was the most common radiographic indication for surgery, 13% of patients with a repeated scan had free air diagnosed on their first CT. Most children undergoing a repeated CT (84%) had findings on the original scan suggesting a BII. Among the 10 patients whose first CT scan result was normal, only 1 went to the operating room based only on radiographic findings. Children who had their first CT scan at a referring hospital were more likely to have a repeated study compared with those imaged at a trauma center (33% vs 13%, P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Although abdominal CT imaging may contribute to diagnosing intestinal injury after blunt trauma, most children undergo operation based on clinical findings. Repeated imaging should be limited to select patients with diagnostic uncertainty to avoid unneeded delay and radiation exposure.