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Delayed diagnosis of blunt duodenal injury: an avoidable complication

Journal of the American College of Surgeons
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s1072-7515(98)00205-1
  • Medicine


Abstract Background: There is controversy about the impact on morbidity from delayed diagnoses of blunt hollow viscus injuries. A recent study suggested that the increased morbidity was primarily from delayed diagnosis of blunt duodenal injury (BDI). Study Design: We studied the medical records from a 10-year period from June 1987 to June 1997 examining the data on 22,163 cases of blunt trauma. We assessed the incidence and consequences of delayed diagnoses of BDI, and identified preoperative factors associated with these delayed diagnoses. Results: Thirty-five patients (0.2%) were identified in the retrospective study of the records from 22,163 blunt trauma patients to have sustained BDI. Of these, 25 patients (71%) were male. Ages ranged from 1 to 58 years (mean 18.8 years), and the predominant mechanism was motor vehicle accident in 18 patients (51%). Seven patients (20%) (group I) had a diagnostic delay of > 6 hours; 28 patients (80%) (group II) were diagnosed in < 6 hours. Six of the seven group I patients (86%) were evaluated initially with CT scans, and five (83%) showed findings suggestive of BDI. Among the 28 group II patients, 14 (50%) underwent initial diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL), and 14 (50%) had a CT scan. In seven of the group II patients (50%) who were initially evaluated by CT scan, there were findings suggestive of BDI. Diagnostic peritoneal lavage was initially equivocal (red blood cell count = 5,000 to 100,000) in the remaining one group I patient compared with three of the group II patients who had DPL. Deterioration found on physical examinations prompted followup CT scans in 6 group I patients (86%), and the scans were diagnostic for BDI in all cases. Conclusions: Blunt duodenal injury is an uncommon entity. Despite the presence of suggestive CT and DPL findings, the diagnosis was delayed in 20% of the 35 patients whose records were examined in the study; this delayed diagnosis was associated with increased abdominal complications. Patients with persistent abdominal complaints and equivocal CT or DPL findings should undergo laparotomy or repeat CT scan evaluations.

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