Reassessing the utility of CT angiograms in penetrating injuries to the extremities

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BackgroundComputed tomography angiography has become routine in the management of penetrating trauma to the extremity. Our objective was to evaluate the efficacy of physical examination findings compared with computed tomography angiography for detection of clinically significant vascular injuries associated with penetrating trauma to the extremity.MethodsThis was a retrospective chart review of patients presenting to a single level 1 trauma center from January 2013–June 2016. Patients with penetrating trauma to the extremity and no hard signs of vascular injury were included. Physical examination and computed tomography angiography findings were analyzed, with particular focus given to missed injuries.ResultsWe identified 393 patients with penetrating trauma to the extremity without hard signs of vascular injury. Computed tomography angiography was performed in 114 patients (29%). Four patients with distal pulses documented on their initial trauma surveys were found to have vascular injuries on computed tomography angiography, although 3 of these injuries were identified on repeat physical examination. One additional patient had a delayed presentation of a pseudoaneurysm. No mortality or limb loss resulted from these injuries. Total hospital charges for computed tomography angiography amounted to over $700,000.ConclusionPatients with penetrating trauma to the extremity and no hard signs of vascular injury do not require computed tomography angiography for identification of clinically relevant vascular injuries that require emergent operative repair. Serial physical examination appears to provide accurate detection of vascular injury requiring procedural intervention.

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