South African Medical Journal

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Severe blunt thoracic trauma: Differences between adults and children in a level I trauma centre

DL Skinner, D den Hollander, GL Laing, RN Rodseth, DJJ Muckart


Background. Trauma is a leading cause of death in the developing world. Blunt thoracic trauma represents a major burden of disease in both adults and children. Few studies have investigated the differences between these two patient groups.
Objective. To compare mechanism of injury, presentation, management and outcome in children and adults with blunt thoracic trauma.
Methods. Patients were identified from the database of the trauma intensive care unit at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, Durban, South Africa. Demographics and relevant data were extracted from a pre-existing database.
Results. Of 415 patients admitted to the unit, 331 (79.7%) were adults and 84 (20.2%) children aged <18 years. The median injury severity score (ISS) was similar for both age groups (32 v. 34; p=0.812). Adults had a higher lactate level at presentation (3.94 v. 2.60 mmol/L; p=0.001). Of the children, 96.4% were injured in motor vehicle collisions, 75.0% as pedestrians. Compared with adults, children had significantly fewer rib fractures (20.2% v. 42.0%; p<0.001), flail chests (2.4% v. 26.3%; p<0.001) and blunt cardiac injuries (BCIs) (9.5% v. 23.6%; p=0.004), but sustained more lung contusions (79.8% v. 65.6%; p=0.013). Mortality in children was significantly lower than in adults (16.7% v. 27.8%; p=0.037).
Conclusion. Thoracic injuries in children are the result of pedestrian collisions more often than in adults. They suffer fewer rib fractures and BCIs, but more lung contusions. Despite similar ISSs, children have significantly lower mortality than adults. More effort needs to be concentrated on child safety and preventing pedestrian injury.

AJOL African Journals Online