Unnecessary Laparotomies for Trauma: A Prospective Study of Morbidity

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Despite advances in diagnostic techniques, unnecessary laparotomies (no repairs/no drains) are still performed in trauma centers. The true risks of such procedures are unclear. Our hypothesis was that the overall incidences of complications after an unnecessary laparotomy for trauma that have been reported in the literature were significant underestimates because of flaws in study design. To test our hypothesis, a prospective study to record all perioperative complications in patients undergoing an unnecessary laparotomy for trauma was performed.


Prospective case series.

Measurements and Main Results

The main outcome measures were perioperative complications. An unnecessary laparotomy was performed in 254 patients who sustained trauma. The mechanism of injury was a penetrating would in 98% of the patients. Complications occurred in 41.3% of the patients (n = 105) and included atelectasis (15.7%), postoperative hypertension that required medical treatment (11.0%), pleural effusion (9.8%), pneumothorax (5.1%), prolonged ileus (4.3%), pneumonia (3.9%), surgical wound infection (3.2%), small bowel obstruction (2.4%), urinary infection (1.9%), and others. Complication rates for patients who did (n = 111) and did not (n = 143) have an associated injury were 61.3% and 25.9%, respectively (p = 0.0001). Complications occurred in 19.7% of 81 patients who did not have an associated injury and who did not have intraperitoneal or retroperitoneal penetration. The mortality rate for the entire series was 0.8% and was unrelated to the unnecessary laparotomies.


Unnecessary laparotomies for trauma result in a significant morbidity when complications are recorded prospectively. Current efforts to reduce the incidence of these unnecessary procedures without increasing that of missed injuries are obviously worthwhile.

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