The Trauma Professional's Blog
Contrast Blush in Children

A contrast blush is occasionally seen on abdominal CT in patients with solid organ injury. This represents active arterial extravasation from the injured organ. In most institutions, this is grounds for call interventional radiology to evaluate and possibly embolize the problem. The image below shows a typical blush from extravasation.

Splenic contrast blush

This thinking is fairly routine and supported by the literature in adults. However, it cannot be generalized to children!

Children have more elastic tissue in their spleen and tend to do better with nonoperative management than adults. The same holds true for contrast blushes. The vast majority of children will stop bleeding on their own, despite the appearance of a large blush. In fact, if children are taken to angiography, it is commonplace for no extravasation to be seen!

Angiography introduces the risk of local complications in the femoral artery as well as more proximal ones. That, coupled with the fact that embolization is rarely needed, should keep any prudent trauma surgeon from ordering the test. It should be reserved for cases where nonoperative management is failing, but hypotension (hard fail) has not yet occurred.

The only difficult questions is “when is a child no longer a child?” Is there an age cutoff at which the spleen starts acting like an adult and keeps on bleeding? Unfortunately, we don’t know. I recommend that you use the "eyeball test", and reserve angiography for kids with contrast extravasation who look like adults (size and body habitus).

Reference: What is the significance of contrast “blush” in pediatric blunt splenic trauma? Davies et al. J Pediatric Surg 2010 May; 45(5):916-20.


Complications of Splenic Embolization for Trauma

Angioembolization has become a common procedure that can increase the likelihood of success for nonoperative management for splenic trauma. It does have its own set of complications to be aware of, however.

The most obvious complication is mechanical injury to the femoral artery. This occurs in 1 to 3% of patients. It is more common in the very young (small caliber artery) and the elderly (arteries of stone). Rarely, the substance or device that is used for the embolization may migrate or end up on the wrong spot, infarcting something important.

A common issue that occurs is infarction of portions of the spleen. This is actually the desired effect, as it stops the bleeding. Most of the time, we are unaware of the changes that take place in the spleen post-procedure. But every once in a while we get a repeat CT scan days or weeks down the road and see some very interesting things.

The most common finding is a splenic infarct alone. This is an area of the spleen, sometimes wedge shaped, that does not take up contrast. This is normal. In some cases, gas bubbles are seen within the spleen parenchyma, usually within the infarcted area. In others, large areas of gas are present, and an air-fluid level may also be seen. This is definitely not normal.

Note the infarcted area at the arrow, with a tiny gas bubble visible.

Tiny bubbles are normal after this procedure, and can be ignored if the patient does not appear ill and does not have any systemic evidence of inflammation or sepsis. On the other hand, big bubbles or air-fluid levels probably indicate a developing splenic abscess, and the patient will usually appear ill and have a high WBC count. Unfortunately, the only treatment for this is splenectomy. Insertion of drainage catheters does not work and the patient will only become sicker if it is attempted.


Pop Quiz: Interesting Case!

A 16 year old male was thrown against the handlebars during a motorcycle crash at about 40 mph. He dusted himself off and went home for a few hours. Unfortunately, he slowly developed some abdominal pain.

He presented to an ED several hours later. He was found to have mild, diffuse abdominal pain, normal vital signs, and a positive abdominal FAST exam. CT scan showed a grade IV spleen injury and a grade II liver injury in the right lobe with no extravasation or pseudoaneurysm noted. He was successfully treated nonoperatively and was sent home.

One month later he returns to the ED complaining of a single episode of hematochezia (approximately 200cc). He has an entirely normal exam and vital signs.

Here are my questions for you:

  • Was the initial management appropriate?
  • Should anything additional have been done during the first admission?
  • What is the diagnosis now?
  • What diagnostic or therapeutic maneuvers are indicated now?

Please tweet your guesses, or leave comments below. Hints tomorrow and answers on Friday. Good luck!

Patient not treated at Regions Hospital


Angiography And Splenic Salvage

Variations in the way we deal with trauma can have a significant impact on patient outcome. This has been documented most recently in the use of angioembolization when dealing with patients with spleen injuries. The first paper presented at EAST 2013 looked at outcomes at hospitals that use angio more heavily vs those who don’t.

They analyzed 1275 patients presenting to 4 Level I trauma centers. Two centers were high-use (11% and 19% usage) and the other 2 were low-use (1% and 4%). The outcomes studied were the splenic salvage rate and success in nonoperative management. And although patients at the low angio use centers had a higher ISS, the splenic injury grade was the same.

Interesting findings included:

  • Admission splenectomy rate was the same, meaning that both types of centers used the same criteria when the patient rolled through the door
  • High angio use centers had higher overall salvage rates (82% vs 77%)  and greater success with nonoperative managment (96% vs 92%)
  • In high grade injury (grade 3 and 4) the salvage rate was still better (67% vs 56%) and nonop success rates were much better (92% vs 80%)
  • In patients who were initially managed nonoperatively, use of angio was associated with salvage
  • Patients in high angio centers were more likely to leave the hospital with their spleen where it should be
  • There was no analysis of complications from angiography
  • There was no comment on how these patients were managed on a day to day basis

Bottom line: There is a considerable amount of variation in how trauma centers use angiography for spleen injury. Unfortunately, this variability is allowing people to lose their spleens at centers who don’t use it as much. The overall success rate in managing spleen injury (all comers) has historically been about 93%. More aggressive use of angiography is now shown to improve that to 97%. Given this new data, angio needs to be considered in patients with grade 3+ injury and in any with contrast extravasation. And the overall management should be standardized as well.

Reference: Variation in splenic artery embolization and spleen salvage: a multicenter analysis. Paper 1, EAST annual scientific assembly, Jan 15, 2013.