Injuries of the gastrointestinal tract from blunt trauma in children: A 12-year experience at a designated pediatric trauma center

Timothy G. Canty, Timothy G. Canty, Carlos Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Introduction: Nonoperative management of solid organ injury from blunt trauma in children has focused concern on potential delays in diagnosis of hollow viscus injury with resultant increases in morbidity, mortality, and cost. This study of a large pediatric trauma database will review the issues of difficulty and/or delay in diagnosis as it relates specifically to definitive treatment and outcome. Methods: We surveyed 11,592 consecutive admissions to a designated pediatric trauma center from 1985 to 1997 to identify children with documented injury of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from blunt trauma. The records were extensively analyzed specifically in regard to mechanism of injury, type and site of injury, time to diagnosis, operative treatment, complications, and final outcome. Results: The 79 children identified, 4 months to 17 years old, included 27 females and 52 males. Mechanism of injury included 15 restrained and 7 unrestrained passengers, 15 pedestrians, 15 child abuse victims, 10 bike handlebar intrusions, 8 discrete blows to the abdomen, 4 bike versus auto, 3 falls, and 2 crush injuries. There were 51 perforations, 6 avulsions, and 22 lesser injuries including contusions. Injury of the small bowel was most common, 44 cases, followed by the duodenum, 18 cases, colon, 17 cases, and stomach, 6 cases. In 45 children, diagnosis was made quickly by a combination of obvious clinical findings, plain x-ray and/or initial computed tomographic findings mandating urgent operative intervention. Diagnosis was delayed beyond 4 hours in 34 children, beyond 24 hours in 17 children and was made by persistent clinical suspicion, aided by delayed computed tomographic findings of bowel wall edema or unexplained fluid. The six deaths were caused by severe head injury. Complications included two delayed abscesses and two cases of intestinal obstruction. All 73 survivors left the hospital with normal bowel function. Conclusions: Injury to the GI tract from blunt trauma in children is uncommon (<1%). The majority of GI tract injuries (60%) are caused by a discrete point of energy transfer such as a seatbelt (19%), a handle bar (13%), or a blow from abuse (19%), or other blows and is unique to this population. Although diagnosis may be difficult and often delayed, this did not result in excessive morbidity or mortality. Safe and effective treatment of GI tract injuries is compatible with nonoperative management of most other injuries associated with blunt abdominal trauma in children, while reducing the risk of nontherapeutic laparotomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-240
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1999


  • Blunt abdominal trauma
  • GI tract injury in children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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