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Ann Surg. 1991 Feb;213(2):98-112.

Splenic trauma. Choice of management.

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Department of Surgery, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48201.


The modern era for splenic surgery for injury began in 1892 when Riegner reported a splenectomy in a 14-year-old construction worker who fell from a height and presented with abdominal pain, distension, tachycardia, and oliguria. This report set the stage for routine splenectomy, which was performed for all splenic injury in the next two generations. Despite early reports by Pearce and by Morris and Bullock that splenectomy in animals caused impaired defenses against infection, little challenge to routine splenectomy was made until King and Schumacker in 1952 reported a syndrome of "overwhelming postsplenectomy infection" (OPSI). Many studies have since demonstrated the importance of the spleen in preventing infections, particularly from the encapsulated organisms. Overwhelming postsplenectomy infection occurs in about 0.6% of children and 0.3% of adults. Intraoperative splenic salvage has become more popular and can be achieved safely in most patients by delivering the spleen with the pancreas to the incision, carefully repairing the spleen under direct vision, and using the many adjuncts to suture repair, including hemostatic agents and splenic wrapping. Intraoperative splenic salvage is not indicated in patients actively bleeding from other organs or in the presence of alcoholic cirrhosis. The role of splenic replantation in those patients requiring operative splenectomy needs further study but may provide significant long-term splenic function. Although nonoperative splenic salvage was first suggested more than 100 years ago by Billroth, this modality did not become popular in children until the 1960s or in adults until the latter 1980s. Patients with intrasplenic hematomas or with splenic fractures that do not extend to the hilum as judged by computed tomography usually can be observed successfully without operative intervention and without blood transfusion. Nonoperative splenic salvage is less likely with fractures that involve the splenic hilum and with the severely shattered spleen; these patients usually are treated best by early operative intervention. Following splenectomy for injury, polyvalent pneumococcal vaccine decreases the likelihood of OPSI and should be used routinely. The role of prophylactic penicillin is uncertain but the use of antibiotics for minor infectious problems is indicated after splenectomy.

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