The purpose of this study was to identify factors that would aid in the diagnosis of small-bowel and mesentery injuries (SBMI) in blunt trauma patients.
Retrospective review of 15,779 blunt trauma patients admitted to a Level I trauma center between January 1991 and December 1996.
A total of 5,303 patients sustained abdominal injuries, 70 of whom had more than 111 SBMI. Seventy-nine percent were victims of motor vehicle collisions. Thirty patients had isolated SBMI and 40 had associated intra-abdominal injuries. Twelve patients arrived with systolic blood pressure < 90 mm Hg, eight of whom died. Mean base deficit was -7.3 +/- 6.3 in 52 patients who had arterial blood gases determined. Fifty-three of 60 patients had hematuria. Sixty-seven patients required laparotomy. Delayed exploration occurred in 15 patients who underwent initial computed tomography but had subsequent changes in physical status. Two of 20 patients had negative diagnostic peritoneal lavage on admission and were eventually explored based on abdominal computed tomographic findings and changes in physical examination. There were 15 deaths. Delay in diagnosis (>12 hours after arrival) occurred in nine patients with no deaths or significant morbidities. Mean Injury Severity Score was 29 +/- 16.7: 43 +/- 17 in nonsurvivors and 25 +/- 14.3 in survivors (p < 0.05).
The diagnosis of SBMI is often made in the presence of associated intra-abdominal injuries. Isolated SBMI are common, however, and special attention to the mechanism of injury, abdominal examination, presence of hematuria, and significant base deficit should raise suspicion to the possibility of SBMI. Findings on abdominal computed tomography that may suggest SBMI and should prompt further evaluation include free fluid, thickened bowel, and extraluminal air. Because delay in diagnosis does not seem to affect morbidity or mortality, dedication to observation and serial physical examinations will aid in the proper identification of elusive SBMI. Mortality, however, does appear to be related to the presence of hypotension on admission and associated injuries.