To characterize fatal blunt aortic injury (BAI).
A retrospective chart review of 242 cases of fatal BAI in patients who underwent an autopsy at our institution between 1984 and 1997 was performed. Comparisons were made for statistical differences using the z
Two hundred forty-two cases of fatal BAI were reviewed, making this the largest BAI autopsy study to date. Mechanisms of BAI included driver/passenger in motor vehicle crash (MVC) (68%), pedestrian versus MVC (17%), and motorcycle crash (8%). When comparing the mechanisms in the time period 1984 to 1988 to the time period 1989 to 1997, only the pedestrian versus MVC mechanism was significantly different (12% vs. 23%, p
< 0.05). MVC direction of impact included head-on (45%), lateral (35%), and complex (20%). Two thirds of the victims sustained head injuries, rib fractures, and/or hepatic trauma. Only 58% of the victims had the classic isthmus laceration. There was one preventable death secondary to delay in diagnosis.
BAI is not limited to frontal impact crashes; there should be a high index of suspicion of BAI in lateral impact crashes as well as pedestrian versus MVC mechanisms. Nonisthmus and complex aortic lacerations are common in fatal BAI. Finally, BAI is a highly lethal injury with few preventable deaths in this series.