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The Reliability of Nonreconstructed Computerized Tomographic Scans of the Abdomen and Pelvis in Detecting Thoracolumbar Spine Injuries in Blunt Trauma Patients with Altered Mental Status
Micah W. Smith, MD1; J.D. Reed, MD2; R. Facco, MD2; T. Hlaing, MBBS1; Alan McGee, MD3; B. Matthew Hicks, MD4; Mary Aaland, MD1
1 Trauma Services, Parkview Hospital, 2200 Randallia Drive, Fort Wayne, IN 46805
2 Fort Wayne Radiology, 3707 New Vision Drive, Fort Wayne, IN 46845
3 Orthopaedics Northeast, 5050 North Clinton Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46825
4 Fort Wayne Orthopaedics, 7601 West Jefferson Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46804
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Disclosure: The authors did not receive any outside funding or grants in support of their research for or preparation of this work. Neither they nor a member of their immediate families received payments or other benefits or a commitment or agreement to provide such benefits from a commercial entity in preparation of this work. No commercial entity paid or directed, or agreed to pay or direct, any benefits to any research fund, foundation, division, center, clinical practice, or other charitable or nonprofit organization with which the authors, or a member of their immediate families, are affiliated or associated.
Investigation performed at Parkview Hospital, Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2009 Oct 01;91(10):2342-2349. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.H.01304
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Background: Computerized tomography, traditionally utilized to evaluate and detect visceral abdominal and pelvic injuries in multiply injured patients with altered mental status, also has been useful for detecting thoracolumbar spine fractures and dislocations. The purpose of the present study was to test the reliability of nonreconstructed computerized tomography of the abdomen and pelvis as a screening tool for thoracolumbar spine injuries in blunt trauma patients with altered mental status.

Methods: The study consisted of fifty-nine consecutive patients with altered mental status who were admitted to a Level-II trauma center. Each patient had a nonreconstructed computerized tomographic scan of the abdomen and pelvis (5-mm slices), and of the chest when indicated, as well as anteroposterior and lateral radiographs of the thoracolumbar spine. Reconstructed computerized tomographic scans dedicated to the spine (=2-mm slices) were completed. With use of the reconstructions as the gold standard, sensitivity and specificity with 95% confidence intervals were calculated to assess the diagnostic accuracy of using the nonreconstructed computerized tomographic scans and the radiographs.

Results: Reconstructions of the spine detected seventy-two thoracolumbar spine fractures, whereas nonreconstructed computerized tomographic scans of the abdomen and pelvis detected fifty-eight and those of the chest detected sixteen. With use of the reconstructions as the standard, computerized tomography of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis had a sensitivity of 89% (95% confidence interval, 65% to 96%) and a specificity of 85% (95% confidence interval, 65% to 96%) for the detection of all fractures, compared with 37% and 76% for plain radiographs, respectively. Computerized tomography of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis was 100% sensitive and specific for the detection of whether a patient had any fracture at all, whereas radiographs were 54% sensitive and 86% specific. No fractures that were missed on nonreconstructed computerized tomography required surgery or other interventions.

Conclusions: Nonreconstructed computerized tomography detected fractures of the thoracolumbar spine more accurately than plain radiographs did and is recommended for the diagnosis of thoracolumbar spine fractures in acute trauma patients with altered mental status. Reconstructions do not need to be ordered unless an abnormality that is found on the nonreconstructed computerized tomographic scan needs additional elucidation.

Level of Evidence: Diagnostic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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