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Injury. 2019 May 24. pii: S0020-1383(19)30321-3. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2019.05.025. [Epub ahead of print]

Pulseless electrical activity following traumatic cardiac arrest: Sign of life or death?

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Creighton University School of Medicine, Phoenix Campus, St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ, USA.
Chandler Regional Medical Center, Chandler, AZ, USA.
Creighton University School of Medicine, Phoenix Campus, St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ, USA. Electronic address:



Generally considered a sign of life, PEA is the most common arrhythmia encountered following pre-hospital traumatic cardiac arrest. Some recommend cardiac ultrasound (CUS) to determine cardiac wall motion (CWM) prior to terminating resuscitation efforts. This purpose of this study was to evaluate the outcomes of patients with traumatic cardiac arrest presenting with PEA, with and without CWM.


Trauma patients who underwent pre-hospital CPR were identified from the registries of two level-1 trauma centers. Pre-hospital management by emergency medical transport services was guided by advanced life support protocols. The on-duty trauma surgeon directed the resuscitations and performed or supervised CUS and determined CWM.


Among 277 patients who underwent pre-hospital CPR, 110 patients had PEA on arrival to ED. 69 (62.7%) were injured by blunt mechanisms. Median CPR duration was 20.0 and 8.0 min for pre-hospital and ED, respectively. Sixty-three patients (22.7%) underwent resuscitative thoracotomy. One hundred seventy-two patients (62.1%) received CUS and of these 32 (18.6%) had CWM. CWM was significantly associated with survival to hospital admission (21.9% vs. 1.4%; P < 0.001); however, no patient with CUS survived to hospital discharge. Overall, only one patient with PEA on arrival survived to discharge.


Following pre-hospital traumatic cardiac arrest, PEA on arrival portends death. Although CWM is associated with survival to admission, it is not associated with meaningful survival. Heroic resuscitative measures may be unwarranted for PEA following pre-hospital traumatic arrest, regardless of CWM.


Cardiac ultrasound in trauma; FAST; Pulseless electrical activity; Traumatic cardiac arrest

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