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Am J Emerg Med. 1998 Mar;16(2):145-9.

Injuries distracting from intraabdominal injuries after blunt trauma.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Albany Medical Center, NY 12208, USA.


While most conscious patients with severe intraabdominal injuries (IAI) will usually present with either abdominal pain or tenderness, there is a small group of awake and alert patients in whom the physical examination will be falsely negative because of the presence of associated extraabdominal ("distracting") injuries. We sought to define the types of extraabdominal injuries that could lead to a false negative physical examination for potentially severe IAI in adult victims of blunt trauma. This study was prospectively performed on consecutive blunt trauma patients over a 14-month period in our level I trauma center. Inclusion criteria were as follows: (1) Glasgow Coma Scale score of 15; (2) age 18 years or older; and (3) computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen or diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL) performed regardless of initial physical examination findings. Patients were questioned specifically about the presence of abdominal pain and the initial abdominal examination was documented in addition to other extraabdominal injuries. Abdominal injuries were considered to be present based upon either abdominal CT findings or a positive DPL. Patients with and without abdominal pain or tenderness were compared for the presence of IAI. A total of 350 patients were enrolled. There were 142 patients with neither abdominal pain nor tenderness (group 1) and 208 patients with either or both (group 2). Ten of the 142 patients (7.0%) in group 1 had IAI compared with 44 of the 208 patients (21.2%) in group 2 (P = .0003). Presence of pain and/or tenderness had a sensitivity of 82%, a specificity of 45%, a positive predictive value of 21%, and negative predictive value of 93%. All 10 patients in group 1, and 36 of the 44 group 2 patients, had associated extraabdominal injuries. Although the presence of abdominal pain or tenderness was associated with a significantly higher incidence of IAI, the lack of these findings did not preclude IAI.

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