Acute Care of the Victim of Multiple Trauma

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Chapter 66 Acute Care of the Victim of Multiple Trauma


Injury is a leading cause of death and disability in children throughout the world (Chapter 5.1). According to the World Health Organization report on child injury prevention, unintentional injuries are one of the leading causes of death in children younger than 20 yr and the leading cause of death in children between 10 and 20 yr in the world. Road traffic accidents, drowning, fire-related events, and falls rank among the top causes of death and disability in children. In Asia, injury accounts for more than 50% of deaths in children <18 yr, with drowning accounting for approximately half. In the USA, more than 12,000 children die each year secondary to unintentional injury, with motor vehicle related injuries being the leading cause.

Deaths represent only a small fraction of the total trauma burden. Approximately 9.2 million children are treated in U.S. emergency departments (EDs) each year for injury, most commonly for falls. Many survivors of trauma have permanent or temporary functional limitations. Motor vehicle–related injuries and falls rank among the top 15 causes of disability-adjusted life years in children worldwide.

Trauma is frequently classified according to the number of significantly injured body parts (1 or more), the severity of injury (mild, moderate, or severe), and the mechanism of injury (blunt or penetrating). In childhood, blunt trauma predominates, accounting for the majority of injuries. In adolescence, penetrating trauma increases in frequency, accounting for approximately 15% of injuries, and has a higher case fatality rate.

Regionalization and Trauma Teams

Mortality and morbidity rates have decreased in geographic regions with comprehensive, coordinated trauma systems. Treatment at designated trauma centers is associated with decreased mortality. At the scene of injury, paramedics should administer necessary advanced life support and perform triage (Fig. 66-1; Tables 66-1 and 66-2). It is usually preferable to bypass local hospitals and rapidly transport a seriously injured child directly to a pediatric trauma center (or a trauma center with pediatric commitment). Children have lower mortality rates after severe blunt trauma when they are treated in designated pediatric trauma centers or in hospitals with pediatric intensive care units.


Figure 66-1 Field triage decision scheme—United States, 2006.

(Adapted from American College of Surgeons: Resources for the optimal care of the injured patient, Chicago, 2006, American College of Surgeons.) Footnotes have been added to enhance understanding of field triage by persons outside the acute injury care field:

*The upper limit of respiratory rate in infants is >29 breaths/min to maintain a higher level of overtriage for infants.

Trauma centers are designated Level I-IV, with Level I representing the highest level of trauma care available.

§Any injury noted in Steps 2 and 3 triggers a “yes” response.

Age <15 yr.

**Intrusion refers to interior compartment intrusion, as opposed to deformation, which refers to exterior damage.

††Includes pedestrians or bicyclists thrown or run over by a motor vehicle or those with estimated impact >20 mph with a motor vehicle.

§§Local or regional protocols should be used to determine the most appropriate level of trauma center; appropriate center need not be Level I.

¶¶Age >55 yr.

***Patients with both burns and concomitant trauma for whom the burn injury poses the greatest risk for morbidity and mortality should be transferred to a burn center. If the nonburn trauma presents a greater immediate risk, the patient may be stabilized in a trauma center and then transferred to a burn center.

†††Injuries such as an open fracture or fracture with neurovascular compromise.

§§§Emergency medical services.

¶¶¶Patients who do not meet any of the triage criteria in Steps 1-4 should be transported to the most appropriate medical facility as outlined in local EMS protocols.






* Scheme is shown in Fig. 66-1.

Modified from Sasser SM, Hunt RC, Sullivent EE, et al: Guidelines for field triage of injured patients: recommendations of the National Expert Panel on Field Triage, MMWR Recomm Rep 58(RR-1):1–35, 2009.

When the receiving ED is notified before the child’s arrival, the trauma team should also be mobilized in advance. Each member has defined tasks. A senior surgeon (surgical coordinator) or, sometimes initially, an emergency physician leads the team. Team compositions vary somewhat from hospital to hospital; the model used at Children’s National Medical Center (Washington, DC) is shown in Figure 66-2. Consultants, especially neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, must be promptly available; the operating room staff should be alerted.

Physiologic status, anatomic locations, and/or mechanism of injury are used for field triage as well as to determine whether to activate the trauma team (see Table 66-2). More importance should be placed on physiologic compromise and less on mechanism of injury. Scoring scales such as the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS), Injury Severity Score (ISS), Pediatric Trauma Score, and Revised Trauma Score (Table 66-3) use these parameters to predict patient outcome. The AIS and ISS are used together. First, the AIS is used to numerically score injuries—as 1 minor, 2 moderate, 3 serious, 4 severe, 5 critical, or 6 probably lethal—in each of 6 ISS body regions: head/neck, face, thorax, abdomen, extremity, and external. The ISS is the sum of the squares of the highest 3 AIS region scores.

Primary Survey

During the primary survey, the physician quickly assesses and treats any life-threatening injuries. The principal causes of death shortly after trauma are airway obstruction, respiratory insufficiency, shock from hemorrhage, and central nervous system injury. The primary survey addresses the ABCDEs: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, neurologic Deficit, and Exposure of the patient and control of the Environment.

Airway/Cervical Spine

Optimizing oxygenation and ventilation while protecting the cervical spine from potential further injury is of paramount importance. Initially, cervical spine injury should be suspected in any child sustaining multiple, blunt trauma. Children are at risk for such injuries because of their relatively large heads, which augment flexion-extension forces, and weak neck muscles, which predispose them to ligament injuries. To prevent additional spinal injury, the current standard is to immobilize the cervical (and thoracic and lumbar) spine in neutral position with a stiff collar, head blocks, tape or cloth placed across the forehead, torso, and thighs to restrain the child, and a rigid backboard.

Airway obstruction manifests as snoring, gurgling, hoarseness, stridor, and/or diminished breath sounds (even with apparently good respiratory effort). Children are more likely than adults to have airway obstruction because of their smaller oral and nasal cavities, proportionately larger tongues and greater amounts of tonsillar and adenoidal tissue, higher and more anterior glottic openings, and narrower larynxes and tracheas. Obstruction is common in patients with severe head injuries, owing in part to decreased muscle tone, which allows the tongue to fall posteriorly and occlude the airway. With trauma, obstruction can also result from fractures of the mandible or facial bones, secretions such as blood or vomitus, crush injuries of the larynx or trachea, or foreign body aspiration.

If it is necessary to open the airway, a jaw thrust without head tilt is recommended. This procedure minimizes cervical spine motion. In an unconscious child, an oropharyngeal airway can be inserted to prevent posterior displacement of the mandibular tissues. A semiconscious child will gag with an oropharyngeal airway but may tolerate a nasopharyngeal airway. A nasopharyngeal airway is contraindicated when there is a possibility of a cribriform plate fracture. If these maneuvers plus suctioning do not clear the airway, oral endotracheal intubation is indicated. When endotracheal intubation proves difficult, a laryngeal mask airway can be used as a temporary alternative. A laryngeal mask airway consists of a tube with an inflatable cuff that rests above the larynx and thus does not require placement of the tube into the trachea. Emergency cricothyrotomy is needed in <1% of trauma victims.


The physician assesses breathing by counting the respiratory rate; visualizing chest wall motion for symmetry, depth, and accessory muscle use; and auscultating breath sounds in both axillae. In addition to looking for cyanosis, pulse oximetry is standard. If ventilation is inadequate, bag-valve-mask ventilation with 100% oxygen must be initiated immediately, followed by endotracheal intubation. End-expiratory carbon dioxide (CO2) detectors help verify accurate tube placement.

Head trauma is the most common cause of respiratory insufficiency. An unconscious child with a severe head injury may have a variety of breathing abnormalities, including Cheyne-Stokes respirations, slow irregular breaths, and apnea.

Although less common than a pulmonary contusion, tension pneumothorax and massive hemothorax are immediately life-threatening (Tables 66-4 and 66-5). Tension pneumothorax occurs when air accumulates under pressure in the pleural space. The adjacent lung is compacted, the mediastinum is pushed toward the opposite hemithorax, and the heart, great vessels, and contralateral lung are compressed or kinked (Chapter 405). Both ventilation and cardiac output are impaired. Characteristic findings include cyanosis, tachypnea, retractions, asymmetric chest rise, contralateral tracheal deviation, diminished breath sounds on the ipsilateral (more than contralateral) side, and signs of shock. Needle thoracentesis, followed by thoracostomy tube insertion, is diagnostic and lifesaving. Hemothorax results from injury to the intercostal vessels, lungs, heart, or great vessels. When ventilation is adequate, fluid resuscitation should begin before evacuation, because a large amount of blood may drain through the chest tube, resulting in shock.


The most common type of shock in trauma is hypovolemic shock due to hemorrhage. Signs of shock include tachycardia; weak pulse; delayed capillary refill; cool, mottled, pale skin; and altered mental status (Chapter 64). Early in shock, blood pressure remains normal because of compensatory increases in heart rate and peripheral vascular resistance (Table 66-6). Some individuals can lose up to 30% of blood volume before blood pressure declines. It is important to note that 25% of blood volume equals 20 mL/kg, which is only 200 mL in a 10-kg child. Losses >40% of blood volume cause severe hypotension that, if prolonged, may become irreversible. Direct pressure should be applied to control external hemorrhage. Blind clamping of bleeding vessels, which risks damaging adjacent structures, is not advisable.

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