Aim The abdominal viscera are among the most vulnerable organs of the body to penetrating trauma. Proper management of such trauma in war victims at the first-line hospital where these victims are first seen is of paramount importance. We reviewed medical records of war victims suffering small bowel and colorectal injuries treated at first, second and third-line hospitals during the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88) to assess surgical outcomes.
Methods The medical records of 496 Iranian war victims suffering penetrating gastrointestinal (GI) injuries treated at first, second and third-line (tertiary) hospitals, a total of 19 centres, were reviewed. Laparotomy had been performed at the 1st line hospitals for all patients who had an acute abdomen, whose wounds violated the peritoneum or whose abdominal radiographs showed air or shrapnel in the abdominal cavity. Stable patients were transferred from first-line to second-line or from second line to tertiary hospitals postoperatively. The treatments, complications and patient outcomes were documented and analyzed.
Results There were 496 patients; 145, 220 and 131 victims underwent laparotomy for GI injuries at first, second and third-line hospitals respectively. The small intestine and colon respectively were the most prevalent abdominal organs damaged. Those first treated for GI injuries at front-line hospitals (145 victims) had more serious conditions and could not be transferred prior to surgery and presented a higher prevalence of complications and mortality. Overall mortality from GI surgery was 3.6% (18 patients). Eleven patients (7.5%) whose first GI operation was performed at frontline hospitals and 7 patients (3.2%) who underwent their first surgical operation at second-line hospitals died. The most common reason for these deaths was complications relating to the gastrointestinal operation such as anastomotic leak. Six missed injuries were seen at the frontline and one at second line hospitals. There were no deaths at the 3rd line hospitals.
Conclusion Penetrating abdominal injuries were common in Iranian victims of war often causing multiple organ injuries. The colon and small intestine were the more commonly injured organs and carried the most postoperative complications. Mortality at 1st line hospitals was more than double that of 2nd line hospitals; the complication rate was also greater as was the number of missed injuries. Adherence to the standard surgical protocols, prompt evaluation, proper triage and management are factors which may lower patient morbidity and complications.
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