Thoracic ultrasound (EFAST) has shown promise in inferring the presence of post-traumatic pneumothoraces (PTXs) and may have a particular value in identifying occult pneumothoraces (OPTXs) missed by the AP supine chest radiograph (CXR). However, the diagnostic utility of hand-held US has not been previously evaluated in this role.
Thoracic US examinations were performed during the initial resuscitation of injured patients at a provincial trauma referral center. A high frequency linear transducer and a 2.4 kg US attached to a video-recorder were used. Real-time EFAST examinations for PTXs were blindly compared with the subsequent results of CXRs, a composite standard (CXR, chest and abdominal CT scans, clinical course, and invasive interventions), and a CT gold standard (CT only). Charts were reviewed for in-hospital outcomes and follow-up.
There were 225 eligible patients (207 blunt, 18 penetrating); 17 were excluded from the US examination because of battery failure or a lost probe. Sixty-five (65) PTXs were detected in 52 patients (22% of patients), 41 (63%) being occult to CXR in 33 patients (14.2% whole population, 24.6% of those with a CT). The US and CXR agreed in 186 (89.4%) of patients, EFAST was better in 16 (7.7%), and CXR better in 6 (2.9%). Compared with the composite standard, the sensitivity of EFAST was 58.9% with a likelihood ratio of a positive test (LR+) of 69.7 and a specificity of 99.1%. Comparing EFAST directly to CXR, by looking at each of 266 lung fields with the benefit of the CT gold standard, the EFAST showed higher sensitivity over CXR (48.8% versus 20.9%). Both exams had a very high specificity (99.6% and 98.7%), and very predictive LR+ (46.7 and 36.3).
EFAST has comparable specificity to CXR but is more sensitive for the detection of OPTXs after trauma. Positive EFAST findings should be addressed either clinically or with CT depending on hemodynamic stability. CT should be used if detection of all PTXs is desired.