Limits on resuscitative thoractomy in ED

Eighteen trauma centers contributed ED resuscitative thoracotomy data to a study that commenced enrollment in January 2003. During the ensuing 6 years, 56 patients survived to hospital discharge. Mean age was 31.3; the youngest was a 15-year-old female and the oldest was a 64-year-old male; 93% were male. Injury mechanism was stab wound (SW) in 30 patients, gunshot wound (GSW) in 21 patients, and blunt trauma in 5 patients.
The most common injury was a SW to a ventricle (n =17), accounting for 30% of survivors, followed by a GSW to the lung (n =9) in 16%. There were five survivors (9%) after blunt trauma. Two patients were revived with isolated head trauma who had deteriorated from extensive hemorrhage, one from an open blunt skull fracture (who had 5 minutes of prehospital CPR and left the hospital neurologically intact.) and the other from SWs to the scalp. Two patients also survived with isolated neck injuries: a SW to the vertebral artery and a GSW to the internal carotid artery.
34% of survivors underwent prehospital CPR. Corroborating the reported duration of CPR, the mean base deficit (BD) was 23.3 mequiv/L (range, 14–32 mequiv/L) in those undergoing CPR >5 minutes. In the SW group, the duration was 2 minutes to 10 minutes; the sole survivor after 10 minutes had ventricular wounds with pericardial tamponade. In the GSW group, prehospital CPR was from 1 minute to 15 minutes. The only patient surviving with 15 minutes of CPR also had a ventricular wound with pericardial tamponade but had a moderate neurologic deficit at discharge. In the blunt group, CPR ranged from 3 minutes to 9 minutes; the survivor with 9 minutes of CPR had an atrial rupture with pericardial tamponade.
Seven patients survived with asystole at ED arrival; of significance, all patients had pericardial tamponade. At the time of hospital discharge, three of these patients (43%) had functional neurologic recovery.
The authors state: ‘most recent edition of the ACSCOT advanced trauma life support manual continues to declare “patients sustaining blunt injuries who arrive pulseless but with myocardial electrical activity are not candidates for resuscitative thoracotomy”. But these statements are not congruent with most of the recent literature.

Recommended Limits of Resuscitative Thoracotomy in the ED


BACKGROUND: Since the promulgation of emergency department (ED) thoracotomy >40 years ago, there has been an ongoing search to define when this heroic resuscitative effort is futile. In this era of health care reform, generation of accurate data is imperative for developing patient care guidelines. The purpose of this prospective multicenter study was to identify injury patterns and physiologic profiles at ED arrival that are compatible with survival.
METHODS: Eighteen institutions representing the Western Trauma Association commenced enrollment in January 2003; data were collected prospectively.
RESULTS: During the ensuing 6 years, 56 patients survived to hospital discharge. Mean age was 31.3 years (15-64 years), and 93% were male. As expected, survival was predominant in those with thoracic injuries (77%), followed by abdomen (9%), extremity (7%), neck (4%), and head (4%). The most common injury was a ventricular stab wound (30%), followed by a gunshot wound to the lung (16%); 9% of survivors sustained blunt trauma, 34% underwent prehospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and the presenting base deficit was >25 mequiv/L in 18%. Relevant to futile care, there were survivors of blunt torso injuries with CPR up to 9 minutes and penetrating torso wounds up to 15 minutes. Asystole was documented at ED arrival in seven patients (12%); all these patients had pericardial tamponade and three (43%) had good functional neurologic recovery at hospital discharge.
CONCLUSION: Resuscitative thoracotomy in the ED can be considered futile care when (a) prehospital CPR exceeds 10 minutes after blunt trauma without a response, (b) prehospital CPR exceeds 15 minutes after penetrating trauma without a response, and (c) asystole is the presenting rhythm and there is no pericardial tamponade.
Defining the Limits of Resuscitative Emergency Department Thoracotomy: A Contemporary Western Trauma Association Perspective
J Trauma. 2011 Feb;70(2):334-339.

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