Whole body CT versus selective radiological imaging strategy in trauma: an evidence-based clinical review

Brit Long, Michael D. April, Shane Summers, Alex Koyfman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Background Trauma patients often present with injuries requiring resuscitation and further evaluation. Many providers advocate for whole body computed tomography (WBCT) for rapid and comprehensive diagnosis of life-threatening injuries. Objective Evaluate the literature concerning mortality effect, emergency department (ED) length of stay, radiation, and incidental findings associated with WBCT. Discussion Physicians have historically relied upon history and physical examination to diagnose life-threatening injuries in trauma. Diagnostic imaging modalities including radiographs, ultrasound, and computed tomography have demonstrated utility in injury detection. Many centers routinely utilize WBCT based on the premise this test will improve mortality. However, WBCT may increase radiation and incidental findings when used without considering pre-test probability of actionable traumatic injuries. Studies supporting WBCT are predominantly retrospective and incorporate trauma scoring systems, which have significant design weaknesses. The recent REACT-2 trial randomized trauma patients with high index of suspicion for actionable injuries to WBCT versus selective imaging and found no mortality difference. Additional prospective trials evaluating WBCT in specific trauma subgroups (e.g. polytrauma) are needed to evaluate benefit. In the interim, the available data suggests clinicians should adopt a selective imaging strategy driven by history and physical examination. Conclusions While observational data suggests an association between WBCT and a benefit in mortality and ED length of stay, randomized controlled data suggests no mortality benefit to this diagnostic tool. The literature would benefit from confirmatory studies of the use of WBCT in trauma sub-groups to clarify its impact on mortality for patients with specific injury patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1356-1362
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Computed tomography
  • Imaging
  • Pan scan
  • Trauma
  • Whole-body computed tomography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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