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World J Surg. 2002 May;26(5):539-43. Epub 2001 Nov 22.

Penetrating thoracoabdominal injuries: ongoing dilemma-which cavity and when?

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Critical Care, University of Southern California, LAC+USC Medical Center, 1200 N. State Street, Room 10-750, Los Angeles, California 90033-4525, USA.


The aims of this study were to (1) define characteristics for the thoracoabdominal injury patient population; (2) describe sequences of surgical interventions with combined procedures (i.e., thoracotomy and laparotomy); and (3) describe pitfalls leading to inappropriate sequencing of surgical interventions for thoracoabdominal injuries. It was a retrospective 4-year study (January 1995 to December 1998) conducted at an urban level I trauma center. The study population comprised 254 patients who had sustained thoracoabdominal injuries requiring surgical intervention: 187 (73%) gunshot wounds (GSWs), 64 (25%) stab wounds (SWs), and 3 (2%) shotgun wounds (STWs). The mean revised (RTS) was 6.04; the mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) was 27; the mean estimated blood loss (EBL) was 3000 ml. The overall survival was 175 of 254 (69%). Of the 254, 51 (20%) underwent emergency department (ED) thoracotomy. Altogether, 73 (29%) underwent combined thoracotomy and laparotomy: 59 (81%) GSW, 13 (18%) SW, 1 (1%) STW (mean RTS 5.2, mean ISS 34, mean EBL 6800 ml). Overall survival was 30 of these 73 (41%). A total of 21 of the 73 (29%) underwent ED thoracotomy. In group I (laparotomy then thoracotomy: Lap + Thor, n = 34) the initial procedure was interrupted in 18 (53%). In group II (thoracotomy then laparotomy: Thor + Lap, n = 39) the initial procedure was interrupted in 14 (36%). Pitfalls leading to inappropriate surgical sequencing were persistent hypotension (13/73, 18%) and misleading chest tube output (8/73, 10%). It was concluded that penetrating thoracoabdominal injuries incur high mortality (31%), and the mortality doubles for patients who require combined procedures (59%). Inappropriate surgical sequencing occurred in 32 of 73 (44%) patients undergoing combined procedures. Persistent hypotension, indicating that the wrong cavity was accessed, and misleading chest tube output are the leading pitfalls in thoracoabdominal injury management.

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