The standard evaluation of mediastinal gunshot wounds usually requires angiography and either esophagoscopy or esophagography. In the present study, we have evaluated the role of helical computed tomographic (CT) scanning in reducing the need for angiographic and esophageal studies.
This was a prospective study of patients with mediastinal gunshot wounds who were hemodynamically stable and would otherwise require angiography and esophageal evaluation. All patients underwent CT scan of the chest with intravenous contrast to delineate the missile trajectory. If the missile tract was in close proximity to the aorta, great vessels, or esophagus, then traditional evaluation with angiographic or esophageal evaluation was pursued.
A total of 24 patients met the inclusion criteria and underwent CT scan evaluation of their mediastinal gunshot wounds. One patient was taken for sternotomy to remove a missile embedded in the myocardium solely on the basis of the result of the CT scan. Because of proximity of the bullet tract, 12 patients required additional evaluation with eight angiograms and nine esophageal studies. One of these patients had a positive angiogram (bullet resting against the ascending aorta) and underwent sternotomy for missile removal; all other studies were negative. The remaining 11 patients were found to have well-defined missile tracts that approached neither the aorta nor the esophagus, and no additional evaluation was pursued. There were no missed mediastinal injuries in this group. Overall, 12 of 24 patients (50%) had a change in management (either received an operation or avoided additional radiographic or endoscopic evaluation) on the basis of the CT scan.
The helical CT scan provides a rapid, readily available, noninvasive means to evaluate missile trajectories. This permits accurate assessment of potential mediastinal injury and reduces the need for routine angiographic and esophageal studies.