n South African Journal of Surgery - Paediatric blunt abdominal trauma - are we doing too many computed tomography scans? : paediatric surgery

Volume 51, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0038-2361
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5151



Blunt abdominal trauma in childhood contributes significantly to both morbidity and mortality. Selective non-operative management of blunt abdominal trauma in children depends on both diagnostic and clinical factors. Computed tomography (CT) scanning is widely used to facilitate better management. Increased availability of CT may, however, result in its overuse in the management of blunt abdominal trauma in children, which carries significant radiation exposure risks.

To evaluate the use and value of CT scanning in the overall management and outcome of blunt abdominal trauma in children in the Tygerberg Academic Hospital trauma unit, Parow, Cape Town, South Africa, before and after improved access to CT as a result of installation of a new rapid CT scanner in the trauma management area (previously the scanner had been 4 floors away).
Patients aged 0 - 13 years who were referred with blunt abdominal trauma due to vehicle-related accidents before the introduction of the new CT scanner (group 1, =66, November 2003 - March 2009) were compared with those seen in the 1-year period after the scanner was installed (group 2, =37, April 2009 - April 2010). Details of clinical presentation, imaging results and their influence on management were retrospectively reviewed. A follow-up group was evaluated after stricter criteria for abdominal CT scanning (viz. prior evaluation by paediatric surgical personnel) were introduced (group 3, =14, November 2011 - May 2012) to evaluate the impact of this clinical screening on the rate of negative scans.
There were 66 patients in group 1 and 37 in group 2. An apparent increase in CT use with increased availability was accompanied by a marked increase in negative CT scans (38.9% compared with 6.2%; <0.006). Despite a slightly higher prevalence of associated injuries in group 2, as well as a slightly longer length of hospital stay, there was a similar prevalence of intra-abdominal injuries detected in positive scans in the two groups. In addition, rates of small-bowel perforation in the two groups were similar. The rate of negative scans in group 3 was 46.2% (6/13), but all except one of these patients had a severe brain injury preventing adequate clinical evaluation of intra-abdominal injury.
CT scanning for blunt abdominal trauma in children is essential in the presence of appropriate clinical indications. Ease of access probably increases availability, but the rate of negative scans may increase. Management guidelines should be in place to direct CT scanning to cases in which clinical examination and/or other modalities indicate a likelihood of intra-abdominal injury. The principle of 'as low (radiation) dose as reasonably achievable' (ALARA) should be adhered to because of the increased radiation exposure risks in children.

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