Traumatic Pneumoperitoneum: Implications of Computed Tomography Diagnosis

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Kane NM, Francis IR, Burney RE, Wheatley MJ, Ellis JH, Korobkin M. Traumatic pneumoperitoneum: implications of computed tomography diagnosis. Invest Radiol 1991;26:574-578.Pneumoperitoneum detected on plain radiographs following blunt abdominal trauma is nearly pathognomonic of bowel perforation and usually mandates exploratory laparotomy. To determine the significance of computed tomography (CT)-detected pneumoperitoneum, we reviewed the clinical records and imaging studies of all trauma patients in our hospital over a seven-year period whose abdominal CT scans showed free intraperitoneal gas. Patients who had penetrating injuries or peritoneal lavage prior to CT were excluded. Of the 18 patients who met these inclusion criteria, surgically confirmed bowel injury was found in only four (22%). In the remaining 14 patients, no evidence of gastrointestinal perforation was found by exploratory laparotomy (2 patients), diagnostic peritoneal lavage (4 patients), GI studies and clinical follow-up (6 patients), or clinical follow-up alone (5 patients). Seven patients had a pneumothorax as a possible cause for pneumoperitoneum. Two additional patients were on mechanical ventilation. Unlike pneumoperitoneum seen on plain film, CT-detected pneumoperitoneum is not pathognomonic of bowel perforation. While laparotomy is not mandatory in the nonsurgically explored patient, close clinical observation is essential, and additional diagnostic tests such as peritoneal lavage or radiographic contrast studies can be beneficial to confirm the absence of intestinal injury.

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