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Revista do Colégio Brasileiro de Cirurgiões

Print version ISSN 0100-6991

Rev. Col. Bras. Cir. vol.39 no.4 Rio de Janeiro July/Aug. 2012

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0100-69912012000400011 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

 

Blunt hepatic trauma: comparison between surgical and nonoperative treatment

 

 

Thiago Messias ZagoI; Bruno Monteiro PereiraII; Thiago Rodrigues Araujo CalderanII; Elcio Shiyoiti Hirano, TCBC-SPIII; Sandro RizoliIV; Gustavo Pereira Fraga, TCBC-SPV

IMedical student of the Faculty of Medical Sciences (FCM), University of Campinas (Unicamp)
IIAssistant Surgeon of the Division of Trauma Surgery, FCM, Unicamp
IIIAssistant Professor of the Division of Trauma Surgery, FCM, Unicamp. TCBC – SP
IVProfessor of Surgery and Critical Care Medicine, University of Toronto. Visiting Professor of the Division of Trauma Surgery, FCM,  Unicamp. FRCSC, FACS
VProfessor of Surgery and Coordinator of the Division of Trauma Surgery, FCM, Unicamp. TCBC - SP, FACS

Address correspondence to

 

 


ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study is to examine the outcomes of blunt hepatic trauma, and compare surgical and non-surgical treatment on patients admitted with hemodynamic stability and with no obvious indications of laparotomy.
METHODS: This is a retrospective study of cases admitted to a university teaching hospital between 2000 and 2010. In this period, 120 patients were admitted with blunt hepatic trauma. Sixty five patients (54.1%) were treated non-operatively and fifty five patients were operated upon. Patients who were to undergo surgical treatment were divided into two groups: (A) all those patients undergoing surgical treatment (55) and (B) those patients with no obvious indication for surgery (13).
RESULTS: Patients treated non-operatively had better physiological conditions on admission, had less severe injuries (except the grade of hepatic injury), received less blood components and had lower morbidity and mortality rates than patients operated upon (Group A). Patients operated upon, but with no obvious indications for surgery, had higher rates of complication and mortality than non-operated patients.
CONCLUSION: A non-operative approach results in lower complications, a lesser need for blood transfusions and a lower mortality rate.

Key words: Liver. Wounds and injuries. Wounds and injuries. Wounds, nonpenetrating. Laparotomy. Trauma severity indices.


 

 

INTRODUCTION

The liver, due to its size and anatomical position, is often injured in abdominal trauma. Hepatic injuries correspond to approximately 5% of admissions in emergency rooms worldwide. Its prevalence has risen in the last three decades as a result of an absolute increase in the number of cases and also as a result of an improvement in diagnostic methods 1-5.

In the USA, in recent decades, non-operative treatment has become the choice for patients with blunt abdominal trauma, hemodynamic stability and no signs of peritonitis. The advent of new diagnostic technologies in recent years, such as Computed Tomography (CT), has allowed a paradigm shift from surgical treatment to non-surgical treatment for selected patients. The use of CT for patients with blunt abdominal trauma determines the presence of a liver injury and its organ injury scale, and excludes other significant lesions, avoiding unnecessary surgery 6-9.

Besides the advantage of avoiding morbidity from a laparotomy, non-operative treatment of hepatic lesions has shown other benefits such as a reduction in the need for blood transfusions, a lower rate of abdominal complications, a shorter length of hospital stay and lower mortality 10-12.

This study aims to examine the outcomes of blunt hepatic trauma, and compare surgical and non-surgical treatments for patients admitted with hemodynamic stability and with no obvious indications of laparotomy.

 

METHODS

This is a retrospective study of cases admitted to a university teaching hospital, equivalent to a Level 1 Trauma Center, located in a metropolitan region with a population of approximately 2.7 million. From January 2000 to December 2010, 265 patients were admitted with hepatic trauma. All patients under 14 years old and patients operated in other hospitals and subsequently later referred were excluded from this study. Of these 265 patients, one hundred and twenty (45.3%) were admitted to the emergency room (ER) with blunt hepatic injuries. This group represents the sample analyzed in this study.

Our non-operative treatment procedure includes all patients with blunt hepatic trauma with hemodynamic stability on admission, or after initial reanimation, and with no indication of surgical treatment due of extra and intra-abdominal associated injuries, independent of Glasgow coma scale and severity of hepatic injury. Failure of non-operative treatment determines that a laparotomy be carried out, after the initial decision to treat the patient non-operatively.

The following factors were analyzed: age, gender, cause of injury, systolic blood pressure (SBP) on admission, Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), Revised Trauma Score (RTS), Injury Severity Score (ISS), probability of survival (TRISS), AIS head, ATI, grade of injury according to the Organ Injury Scale of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (OIS-AAST),  presence of associated abdominal injuries, need for blood transfusion, amount of packed red blood cells, platelets and fresh frozen plasma transfusions, complications (related and non-related to the liver), need for surgical intervention, length of hospital stay and mortality 13-18.

Among complications related to the liver, the following were considered: re-bleeding from the hepatic lesion, biliary fistula, biliar peritonitis, liver abscess and intra-abdominal abscess. Among non-related complications, the following were considered: pneumonia, empyema, atelectasis, respiratory distress syndrome, urinary tract infection, digestive and urinary fistulas, sepsis and brain injury.

Patients undergoing surgical treatment were divided into two groups:

· Group A: All the patients submitted for surgical treatment (55 patients).

· Group B: We excluded the patients with obvious indication for surgery: hypotension, evidence of peritonitis, vascular lesions, associated lesions in the hollow viscus. We also excluded patients who required a splenectomy. We reviewed the causes of death of these patients and verified the relation to neurological damage (13 patients).

Patients who failed non-operative treatment (6) were compared with those who didn't (59).

This research project was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, UNICAMP (protocol number 382/2010).

The chi-square test, exact Fisher test and the Mann-Whitney test were all used for statistical analysis purposes. Statistical significance was assumed at p<0.05.

 

RESULTS

The causes of trauma are illustrated in figure 1.

 

 

Between 2000 and 2010, 120 patients were admitted with blunt hepatic trauma. Sixty five patients (54.1%) were treated with non-operatively and fifty five patients were operated upon. Patients treated non-operatively had better physiologic conditions on admission, less severe injuries (except the grade of hepatic injury), received fewer blood components and had lower morbidity and mortality rates. All the aspects evaluated are described in table 1.

Complications related to the liver were found in two patients (3.1%) submitted for non-operative treatment, two patients had re-bleeding from a liver injury, and complications not related to the liver were found in seven patients (10.8%) submitted for non-operative treatment: four of them had pneumonia, one had Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, renal failure and sepsis, one patient had Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and one patient had tracheal stenosis. Within this period, six patients failed non-operative treatment (four due to peritonitis and two due to hypovolemic shock), with a success rate of 90.8% for non-operative treatment in this period. One patient submitted for non-operative treatment died due to hypovolemic shock (operated on the fourth day because of re-bleeding in the liver) and the survival rate was 98.5% for non-operative treatment.

As a further analysis, we excluded, from Group A, those patients who received surgery and who had obvious indication for surgery, as previously mentioned. All evaluated aspects are described in table 2. Of the patients operated on in Group B, six had complications related to the liver (five had re-bleeding from hepatic injury and one had biliar fistula and hepatic abscess) and ten had non-liver related complications (six had pneumonia, two had pneumonia and sepsis, one had infection in a leg injury and one had acute renal failure). Four patients from Group B died (three due to hypovolemic shock and one due to sepsis).

Patients who failed non-operative treatment did not demonstrate significant differences in physiological conditions and severity of injuries. These patients had a significantly higher need for blood transfusions, higher morbidity and higher mortality than the patients who successfully underwent non-operative treatment. All aspects evaluated are described in table 3.

 

DISCUSSION

Motor vehicle collisions are the main cause of blunt hepatic trauma. Pachter et al, in a multi-centric study involving 404 patients, found 291 victims (72%) of car accidents 10. Another study with 136 patients demonstrated that car accidents were responsible for 84% of patients with blunt hepatic trauma, followed by pedestrians (7%), beatings (5%) and motorcycle accidents (2%) 19. Von Bahten et al demonstrated that 46.5% of all blunt hepatic traumas were caused by car accidents, 33.5% by pedestrians hit by cars and 9.5% by assaults 20. A study in Sweden, with 46 patients, found that motor vehicle crashes (MVC) accounted for 43% of the cases of blunt hepatic trauma 21. This study also revealed a predominance of MVCs as a mechanism of blunt trauma, in agreement with literature.

The decision to treat non-operatively is influenced basically by the hemodynamic status of the patient, the grade of hepatic lesion, the presence of abdominal associated injuries and the neurological status. Meredith et al, in a study of 126 patients admitted with blunt hepatic trauma, revealed an average of grade 2.6 on the AAST-OIS scale of liver injuries 22. That mentioned study demonstrated that 15% of patients had grade I liver injury, 40% had grade II, 22% had grade III, 14% had grade IV and 7% had grade V. Pachter et al demonstrated a predominance of grade II (31%) and grade III (36%) liver injuries 10. This study found a prevalence of Grade I, II and III lesions, together representing nearly 80% of all injuries. Initially it was thought that non-operative treatment could be successfully used only for smaller lesions in the liver. However, some studies demonstrated that non-operative treatment of complex lesions of the liver is also related to lower morbidity and mortality 12,23. This study observed that there were no differences in the grades of hepatic injury between the patients undergoing surgery and those who received non-operative treatment, including those who failed non-operative treatment.

Abdominal injuries associated with hepatic injuries occurred more frequently in the spleen and in the kidneys. Bynoe et al didn't find associated abdominal injury in patients with blunt hepatic trauma treated with non-surgical therapy 24. In this study we showed that 18 patients, from a total of 65 with blunt hepatic trauma, had associated abdominal injuries. In a retrospective study with 1,125 patients with blunt abdominal trauma, Malhotra et al concluded that patients with blunt abdominal trauma, and with concomitant injury to the liver and the spleen, have a greater need for blood transfusion, a higher mortality rate and a higher fail rate for non-operative treatment 25. Associated lesions are associated with higher mortality in patients undergoing surgery for blunt hepatic trauma 26.

The occurrence of non-related liver complications (10.8% in the patients submitted for non-operative treatment in this study) was lower than the 38.4% rate observed in another study involving 128 patients 23. Yet another study demonstrated that these complications occurred in 5% of their patients submitted for non-operative treatment 10. The most frequent complications related to the liver, in patients with blunt abdominal trauma, are re-bleeding from the hepatic lesion and hepatic abscess and increases in the grade of hepatic lesion 27,28.

In this study it was shown that fatal outcomes for patients with hepatic trauma occur in approximately 5-20% of cases, with a mortality rate of 1.5% in patients selected for non-operative treatment. Pachter et al, Croce et al and Meredith et al demonstrated a mortality rate of 7%, 9% and 9% respectively 10,19,22. The lower mortality observed in this study can be explained by an improved selection of patients for non-operative treatment. Another study, involving 738 patients with hepatic trauma, demonstrated a higher mortality in patients with advanced age, hemodynamic instability, blunt trauma and a higher grade of hepatic lesion 29.

Regarding the treatment of choice for patients with blunt hepatic trauma, Bynoe et al  reported a percentage of 79.6% of patients undergoing surgical treatment 24. Pachter et al reported a portion of 53% of patients undergoing surgical treatment, in agreement with our study 10.

Until 1995, surgical treatment was the treatment of choice for blunt hepatic trauma. The reluctance of surgeons to opt for non-operative treatment was associated with three main concerns: (1) the idea that hepatic bleeding would not cease until surgery was performed, (2) the idea that non-performance of drainage of bile would result in biliary fistula and infection and (3) the possibility of not finding an associated injury in the event of a positive diagnosis of peritoneal lavage 6,10,21,23. The perception that over 86% of liver injuries stop bleeding at surgery, along with the large number of non-therapeutic laparotomies, made non-operative treatment become the treatment of choice for patients admitted with hemodynamic stability 5,10,19,21,27.

Non-operative treatment is related to a reduced need for blood transfusions (as shown in Table 1), fewer complications and lower mortality, for patients with blunt hepatic trauma admitted with hemodynamic stability 5,10,19,21,22,24.

This study observed that those patients operated upon were presented as more critical cases, and with more severe lesions, than those who underwent non-operative treatment, as observed by Croce et al.19. This justifies the higher incidence of complications (related and non-related to the liver) and mortality. When patients with no obvious indication for laparotomy were compared with those undergoing non-operative treatment, it was observed that the two groups were more homogeneous in hemodynamic stability. The ISS was higher in patients undergoing surgery, which can be explained by the higher AIS head and lower Glasgow Coma Scale, since ATI and grade of liver injury were the same in both groups. Again it was observed that blood transfusions were of larger volumes, and complications and mortality higher, in patients undergoing surgery. Although patients with neurological damage were mostly operated upon, some studies have demonstrated that non-operative treatment is safe for these patients 30. Another important advantage of non-operative treatment, observed in this study and others, is the lesser need for blood transfusions. In Brazil, this is an important advantage, since the amount of blood available for transfusions is limited in many hospitals. In this study, non-operative treatment was shown to be safe for patients admitted with hemodynamic stability, with an overall mortality of 1.5%.

Non-operative treatment of blunt hepatic trauma has a higher success rate for patients admitted with hemodynamic stability and has become the treatment of choice for such patients. A non-operative approach results in lower complications, a lower need for blood transfusions and a lower mortality rate, even in patients admitted with higher grades of lesions.

 

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Address for correspondence:
Thiago Messias Zago
E-mail: thiagomzago@hotmail.com

Conflict of interest: none
Source of funding: Fundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP). Grant number 12698/2010.

Received on 20/11/2011
Accepted for publication 28/01/2012

 

 

Division of Trauma Surgery, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medical Sciences (FCM), University of Campinas (Unicamp), Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil.