Blunt aortic trauma: Signs of high risk

David E. Clark, Martha A. Zeiger, Kevin L. Wallace, Andrew B. Packard, Edward R. Nowicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


In the last 10 years, our center has managed 60 cases of aortic rupture from blunt chest trauma. Nineteen patients died (32%), 11 of whom were moribund on admission. Two patients out of ten who had undergone aortography at other institutions arrived at our hospital with massive bleeding in the left chest and died despite immediate operation. Six patients exsanguinated 1 to 2½ hours after admission while aortography was being arranged or performed, and review of these cases to identify clinical signs of high risk revealed that left hemothorax, pseudocoarctation, and/or supraclavicular hematoma were present in five of the six. It appeared that the survival rate of patients suspected of blunt aortic trauma who had any of these clinical signs might be improved if they were taken directly to the operating room. To investigate this possibility we reviewed all cases from the past 10 years (excluding patients moribund on arrival or who had aortography elsewhere) in whom suspicion of aortic trauma led to aortography or surgery. Thirteen of the 17 patients (76%) with one or more signs of high risk had torn the aortic isthmus, compared to 26 of 154 patients (17%) without these signs. Five of the high-risk group (29%) exsanguinated, compared to one (less than 1%) of the others. No patient in this series died from unsuspected aortic trauma, which we attribute to the liberal use of aortography. Except for the patients with exsanguinating hemorrhage preoperatively, there were no operative or postoperative deaths. We would propose that further reduction in mortality may result from immediate left thoracotomy without aortography in cases of suspected blunt aortic trauma with specific signs of high risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)701-705
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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