Liver trauma: WSES position paper
Coccolini et al. World Journal of Emergency Surgery
Liver trauma: WSES position paper
Federico Coccolini 1
Giulia Montori 1
Fausto Catena 1
Salomone Di Saverio 0 1
Walter Biffl 1 5
Ernest E. Moore 1 5
Andrew B. Peitzman 1 4
Sandro Rizoli 1 3
Gregorio Tugnoli 0 1
Massimo Sartelli 1 2
Roberto Manfredi 1 2
Luca Ansaloni 1
0 General, Emergency and Trauma Surgery, Maggiore Hospital , Bologna , Italy
1 Hospital , Parma , Italy
2 General and Emergency Surgery, Macerata Hospital , Macerata , Italy
3 Trauma & Acute Care Service, St Michael's Hospital , Toronto, ON , Canada
4 Surgery Department, University of Pittsburgh , Pittsburgh, Pensylvania , USA
5 Trauma Surgery, Denver Health , Denver, CO , USA
The liver is the most injured organ in abdominal trauma. Road traffic crashes and antisocial, violent behavior account for the majority of liver injuries. The present position paper represents the position of the World Society of Emergency Surgery (WSES) about the management of liver injuries.
Liver trauma; Surgery; Hemorrage; Operative management; Non-operative management
The liver is the most injured organ in abdominal trauma
[1–3]. Road traffic crashes and antisocial, violent behavior
account for the majority of liver injuries . As
demonstrated by several studies the management of liver trauma
has deeply changed through the last three decades with a
significant improvement in outcomes, especially in blunt
trauma [1, 2, 4]. Most liver injuries are grade I, II or III
and are successfully treated by observation only
(NonOperative Management, NOM). In contrast two-thirds of
grade IV or V injuries necessitate laparotomy (Operative
Management, OM) . These operations are generally
challenging and difficult. Richardson et al. proposed as the
main reasons for improvement in survival: 1) improved
results with packing and reoperation, 2) use of
arteriography and embolization, 3) advances in operative
techniques for major hepatic injuries, and 4) decrease in
hepatic venous injuries undergoing operation [1, 3]. The
severity of traumatic liver injuries is universally classified
according to the AAST classification system (Table 1) .
The present paper represents the position of the World
Society of Emergency Surgery (WSES) about the
treatment of liver trauma. This paper results from the Second
World Congress of WSES that has been held in Bergamo
(Italy) on July 2013. Levels of evidence have been
evaluated in agreement with the Oxford guidelines . As the
WSES includes surgeons from the whole world, this
position paper aims to give the state of the art of the
management of liver trauma, maintaining into account the
1General, Emergency and Trauma Surgery, Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital, P.zza
OMS 1, 24128 Bergamo, Italy
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
secondary different possibilities in its management. In
actuality, not all trauma surgeons work in the same
conditions and have the same facilities and technologies.
Hepatic traumatic lesions can be classified as minor (grade
I, II), moderate (grade III) or major/severe (grade IV, V)
injuries (Fig. 1a, b) [3, 7–9]. This classification is not well
defined in the literature, but aims to define the type of
management that can be adopted and the related outcome
. Frequently low-grade American Association for the
Surgery of Trauma (AAST) lesions (i.e., grade I-III) are
considered as minor or moderate and treated with NOM
[8, 9]. However some patients with high-grade lesions
(i.e., grade IV-V laceration with parenchymal disruption
involving more than 75 % of the hepatic lobe or more than 3
Couinaud segments within a single lobe) may be
hemodynamically stable and treated with NOM .
This demonstrates that the classification of liver
injuries as minor or major ones must consider not only the
anatomic AAST classification but more importantly,
the hemodynamic status of the patient, the ISS and
the associated injuries.
A few studies considered as minor injuries those lesions
with hemodynamic stability, a low AAST organ injuries
scale and a low ISS [8, 9]. These patients can be safely
managed non-operatively with good results in term of
morbidity and mortality. On the other hand major injuries
are those with a higher AAST organ injuries scale, high
ISS and a higher transfusions rate and are often associated
with the worst outcome in terms of morbidity and
mortality [8, 9]. For all the aforementioned reasons major
injuries are associated with a higher necessity of OM.
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Table 1 AAST organ injury scale – liver injury
Capsular tear < 1 cm parenchymal depth
Haematoma Subcapsular 10–50 % surface area;
intraparenchymal, < 10 cm diameter
1–3 cm parenchymal depth, < 10 cm in length
Haematoma Subcapsular > 50 % surface area or expanding,
ruptured subcapsular or parenchymal haematoma.
Intraparenchymal haematoma > 10 cm
> 3 cm parenchymal depth
Parenchymal disruption 25–75 % of hepatic lobe
Juxtavenous hepatic injuries i.e., retrohepatic
vena cav/central major hepatic veins
Advance one grade for multiple injuries up to grade III
AAST liver injury scale (1994 revision)
Fig. 1 a b CT immages of Grade V liver injury
Diagnostic procedures in liver trauma (blunt and
Focused abdominal sonography for trauma (FAST) has
superseded the diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL) or
diagnostic peritoneal aspirate (DPA) in many centers to
evaluate the presence/absence of intra-abdominal fluid
in unstable patients with blunt trauma . DPL however
remains valuable in patients in shock without an overt
source of blood loss. The greatest advantages of FAST
are that it is an economic, non-invasive, rapid,
repeatable procedure, with sensitivity between 80–85 % and a
specificity of 97–100 % . The procedure has some
limitations: reduced sensitivity and specificity in obese
patients, in case of ileus, or subcutaneous emphysema,
and that it is operator dependent . Richards et al.
 reported a 98 % of sensitivity in grade III to V liver
injuries, but there are demonstrated differences between
groups with different expertise . FAST will generally
document 400 ml or more of intra-peritoneal fluid, and
for this reason is a useful exam in unstable patients to
decide for OM or not . As a counterpart if positive
FAST is absolutely helpful in deciding for OM or not, an
apparent negative study does not definitely exclude
significant intra-peritoneal bleeding. In penetrating trauma
FAST is highly specific (94.1–100 %), however is not
able to evaluate the exact lesion grade and is not very
sensitive (28–100 %) [7, 13].
CT-scan has over the last years has improved the
detection of the abdominal injuries. In patients who are
hemodynamically stable, with either penetrating or blunt
injuries, CT is the gold standard [7, 14–16]. Triple
contrast CT has been shown to have a good sensitivity,
except for diaphragm, pancreas and small bowel injuries
. Some authors consider CT as a predictive factor,
along with systolic blood pressure (SBP), to determine
the risk of failure of non-operative management (NOM)
and to predict the patient outcome, particularly in grade
IV lesions or higher . In fact, in the setting of
involvement by one or more hepatic veins, liver surgery is
6.5 times more common, and there is a 3.5 times higher
risk of arterial bleeding. As a counterpart, the risk of
false negative for vascular injuries at CT can delay
proper intervention. For this reason some authors
suggested angiography in all patients with grade 3–5,
irrespective of hemodynamic stability or blush on CT-scan,
particularly when there is associated major hepatic
venous involvement [17–19]. On the other hand hepatic
angiography does not appear to be warranted in the
absence of active bleeding on CT among patients with CT
grade II or grade III injuries, because in these patients
the principal risk appears to be venous bleeding .
Diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL) or diagnostic
peritoneal aspirate (DPA) has been commonly used since its
introduction in 1965. It has been the technique of choice
in ATLS until being replaced by the FAST. It is a
diagnostic approach to evaluate the presence of
hemoperitoneum or free bowel contents in unstable patients .
DPL is considered rapid, accurate, and sensitive tool to
identify intra-abdominal injuries, but it is an invasive
procedure . Contraindications for DPL are obesity,
previous laparotomy, coagulopathy and advanced
pregnancy . Despite being replaced by FAST over the last
few years, in a recent randomized controlled trial DPL
was consider superior to FAST in identifying
intraabdominal injuries, even though it required significantly
more time to be performed .
Recommendations for Non Operative Management (NOM)
in blunt liver trauma (BLT)
Patients should undergo an initial attempt of NOM in a
scenario of blunt trauma, hemodynamic stability, and
isolated liver injury, irrespective of injury grade (GoR 2 A).
NOM is not indicated in case of hemodynamic
instability or peritonitis (GoR 2 A).
NOM should be considered only in an environment
that provides capability for patient intensive monitoring,
angiography and an always available operating room
(GoR 2 A).
Abdominal CT with intravenous contrast should be
always performed to identify the liver injuries and provides
critical information for consideration of NOM (GoR 2 A).
Angiography with embolization may be considered the
first-line intervention in patients with hemodynamic
stability and arterial blush on CT-scan (GoR 2 B).
NOM for liver injury, has increased during the last
century due to its high success rates (82–100 %) [14, 8, 20–28].
This non-operative approach was at first applied
to pediatric patients and has rapidly been extended to
adults. In blunt trauma, NOM is the standard of care in
hemodynamically stable patients, without other
associated injuries requiring an OM . It is contraindicated
in case of hemodynamic instability or peritonitis .
Croce et al. in a prospective case–control trial, reported
a lower rate of complications and a lower number of
transfusions in stable patients treated non-operatively,
regardless of the liver injury severity .
The advantages of NOM include: lower hospital cost,
earlier discharge, avoiding non-therapeutic laparotomy
and unnecessary liver resection, fewer intra-abdominal
complications and reduced number of transfusions .
However, in patients with severe head injuries and in the
elderly, hypotension may be deleterious, and an OM can
be suggested as safer .
The definition of ‘hemodynamic instability’ is not well
estabilished . The Advanced Trauma Life Support
(ATLS) definition  consider as “unstable” the patient
with: blood pressure < 90 mmHg and heart rate >
120 bpm, with evidence of skin vasoconstriction (cool,
clammy, decreased capillary refill), altered level of
consciousness and/or shortness of breath.
After hemodynamic status, the American Association
for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) grade of injury and the
presence of multiple organs lesions seem to be the
principal predictors of failure . However there is no
consensus about the NOM failure risk factors. For this reason
NOM should only be attempted in centers capable of a
precise diagnosis of the severity of liver injuries and
capable of intensive management (frequent hemoglobin
controls, frequent clinical monitoring and 24-h CT-scan,
angiography and operating room availability) [20, 32–34].
At present, no studies report the optimal type and
duration of monitoring. Velmahos et al. considered as
predictors of NOM failure hypotension on admission, high
CT-grade of injury, active contrast extravasation on
CT-scan, and the need for blood transfusion .
Furthermore others authors add the dimension of the
hemoperitoneum (blood around liver, peri-colic gutter,
and in pelvis), the age greater than 55 years, the altered
neurologic status, associated injuries, lactate level at
the admission and drop of the hematocrit >20 % in the
first hour, as risk factors for NOM failure [7, 20, 36].
However these criteria were not identified as absolute
contraindications to NOM.
The total number of transfusions required, in deciding
to opt either for NOM or OM, is still debated .
Pachter et al. suggest that more than 2 units transfusion
and an intraperitoneal blood estimated quantity of more
than 500 mL suggest ongoing bleeding and that an OM
is necessary . Carillo et al. suggested no more than 4
units of blood in hepatic-related transfusion , and
Kozar at al. reported as predictor of liver-related
complications the grade of liver injuries and the 24-h
transfusion requirement .
To improve better use of blood products and hemostatic
agents, the use of thromboelastography (TEG) and the
thromboelastometry (ROTEM) analysis may be safer and
helpful to guide the transfusion strategy . No definitive
recommendations actually exist for the use of
recombination activated factor VII (rFVIIa) either in prevention or
in routinely use in hemorrhage management in trauma
. Some authors suggest that rFVIIa has no role .
Angioembolization is considered by several studies as
an “extension” of resuscitation in patients with ongoing
resuscitative needs, but this practice can be applied safely
only in selected centers (Fig. 2) . Some papers have
reported early angio-embolization can decrease the need for
transfusions and surgery [43, 44]. A recent Norwegian
prospective trial with historical control, applied NOM to
stable patients with blush at the CT-scan or with clinical
bleeding without blush with grade 3–5 liver lesions. It
demonstrated a decreased number of total laparotomy
(24 % vs. 49 %) with a stable NOM failure rate (13 %),
Fig. 2 Hepatic angiography
decreased transfusions and mortality, and a reduced
complications rate (44 % vs. 58 %) . In any case the early
use of this procedure may be beneficial [31, 45].
In multi-organ injuries, particularly in cases of
associated liver and splenic injuries, a recent study by Hsieh
et al. reported that NOM is feasible also in case of
highgrades hepato-splenic injuries (81.4 % NOM vs. 18.7 %
OM) with a failure rate of 3.7 % for liver trauma and
7.1 % failure rate for the spleen trauma . In
multiorgan injuries predictors of failure of NOM are: initial
low hemoglobin level, increased need for transfusions in
Complications of NOM in blunt hepatic trauma arise
particularly in high-grade injury (overall complication rate:
0–7 %, complications in grade III-V injuries: 12.6 %
14 %) [7, 14]. Clinical examination, blood tests, ultrasound
and CT-scan can help in the diagnosis, but a routine
follow-up with CT-scan is not necessary [3, 7, 14].
However control CT-scan is required in case of persistent
inflammatory response at laboratory tests, fever, abdominal
pain, jaundice and drop of hemoglobin level . The
most frequent complications of NOM are: biliary (bile
leak, hemobilia, bilioma, biliary peritonitis, biliary fistula),
bleeding, abdominal compartment syndrome, infections
(abscesses and other infections) and liver necrosis [7, 20].
Ultra-sound evaluation is useful in liver trauma NOM
follow-up, especially in the assessment of bile leak/biloma
in grade IV-V injuries, especially with a central laceration.
The main complication that can occur is re-bleeding
or secondary hemorrhage (as in the rupture of a
capsulate hematoma or a pseudo-aneurysm) [7, 14]. “Late”
bleedings generally occur within 72 h after trauma, and
the overall incidence is 0 % to 14 %. Fortunately the
majority of cases (69 %) can be treated non-operatively
[7, 14]. Unlike the splenic injuries, liver lesions behave
predominantly in two ways: either with a copious
hemorrhage at the beginning requiring an OM, or with no
active bleeding that can be safely managed with NOM
. Post-traumatic hepatic artery pseudo-aneurysms are
rare (1.2 %, with the 70–80 % extra-hepatic and 17–25 %
intra-hepatic) and they can usually be managed with
selective embolization .
Biliary complications can occur in 1/3 of cases and can
be controlled with endoscopic retrograde
cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and eventual stenting,
percutaneous drainage and lastly with surgical intervention (open
or laparoscopic) . Bile leaks can occur in 3–20 % of
NOM [7, 14]. In case of minor bile leaks a conservative
approach can be safely attempted, however high-output
biliary fistula (greater than 300–400 mL/d or when bilious
drainage was at least 50 mL/d continuing after 2 weeks)
will benefit from an early ERCP . Also intrahepatic
bilio-venus fistula (frequent associated with bilemia) can
be treated with ERCP .
Peri-hepatic abscesses have a low incidence (0 %–7 %)
and can be managed with CT-scan or ultrasound-guided
drainage [7, 14, 31]. Necrosis and devascularization of
hepatic segments may occur and clinically may produce
elevation of transaminases, coagulopathy, bile leak,
abdominal pain, feeding intolerance and sepsis if more
severe . In these cases surgical management would be
indicated . Hemobilia is uncomomon (less than 3 %),
but is frequently associated with pseudo-aneurysm [3, 7].
Embolization is safe and is the first approach in
hemodynamically stable and non-septic patients;
otherwise surgical management is mandatory . Another
infrequent complication is the liver compartment syndrome
that may occur with the presence of large sub-capsular
hematomas . The decompression of the hematoma with
percutaneous drainage can be safe . A valid option to
manage these complications could be the delayed
laparotomy or laparoscopy that should be considered as a part of
therapeutic strategy, and not a failure for NOM .
Some authors reported that delayed surgery can occur in
24 % of patients treated non-operatively, and up to 67 %
in those patients with major hepatic lesions (grade IV-V)
. Letoublon et al.  considered a laparoscopic
abdominal exploration between the second and fifth day
safer and useful particularly in case of significant
hemoperitoneum, or peritoneal inflammation or in case of any
kind of clinically relevant abdominal hypertension. The
simple laparoscopic or laparotomic lavage-drainage can be
sufficient in the majority of the cases .
The trauma-related thromboembolic diseases are
considered the third cause of death in patients who survive
the first 24-h after trauma . Deep venous thrombosis
is found in 58 % of cases and the risk of pulmonary
embolism ranges from 2 to 22 %. Concern of hemorrhage
may delay the initiation of deep venous thrombosis
prophylaxis (DVTP) in hepatic trauma is often delayed,
particularly in NOM. Datta et al. in a multicenter review
shows that DVTP is safe and effective if initiated within
48 h from hospital admission . Also Joseph et al.
confirmed data about the safety and efficacy of early DVTP in
blunt solid abdominal injuries . Delay in starting
DVTP results in increased venous thrombo-embolic
events without increasing the NOM failure rate [20, 54].
In NOM patients after liver trauma, Parks et al. 
suggested an initial treatment with sequential
compression devices and as soon as possible (when the
hemoglobin level variations are ≤ 0.5 g from the
previous draw) the introduction of DVTP in addition to the
The post-injury follow-up is an issue that remains
unclear in NOM. There is no standard follow-up and
monitoring protocol to evaluate patients with NOM liver
injuries. Parks and coll. reviewed NOM guidelines for
patient safety and optimal length of stay based solely on
clinical criteria . They suggested a serial hemoglobin
measurements every 6 h for the first 24 h in stable
patients with I-II grade before the discharge if patient
remain stable, and every 6 h during the first 12 h and
subsequently after every 12 h in grade III-IV-V injuries;
the patients were allowed to walk after 24 h .
Recommendations for NOM in penetrating liver trauma
NOM in penetrating liver trauma could be considered
only in case of hemodynamic stability, absence of
peritonitis and or evisceration and or impalement (GoR 2 A).
NOM in penetrating liver trauma should be considered
only in an environment that provides capability for
intensive monitoring of the patients, angiography and an
operating room always viable (GoR 2 A).
Serial clinical examinations and local wound
exploration must be always performed in case of stab wounds
(GoR 2 A).
CT scan must be always performed to identify
penetrating liver injuries suitable for NOM (GoR 2 A).
Angioembolisation is to be considered in case of arterial
bleeding in a hemodynamic stable patient without signs of
peritonitis, evisceration or impalement (GoR 2 A).
Until past years NOM has not been considered
feasible in case of penetrating trauma both in stab wounds
and in gunshot wounds [7, 14, 56–62]. In fact, in these
cases, the majority of surgeons considered the OM as
the standard or, at least, laparoscopic exploration is
considered a viable option. However, particularly for stab
wounds in 70 % of patients it can be unnecessary .
Recent studies reviewed the conservative approach,
showing a high success rate (50 % of stab wounds (SW)
in the anterior abdomen and about 85 % in the posterior
abdomen) . This concept has been applied also in
gunshot wounds (GSWs) . However to decide either
for NOM or for OM in these cases should be kept in
mind the distinction between low and high energy
penetrating trauma. Only in case of low energy, both SW and
GSW, NOM can be safe. In fact high energy GSW and
other ballistic injuries are perceived to be less amenable
to NOM because of the high-energy transfer, and in
90 % of cases an OM is required [60, 63]. Despite that
some studies reported a 25 % non-therapeutic
laparotomies rate in abdominal GSWs, confirming that in
selective cases NOM could be pursued .
10 trials and case series reported about the NOM of
penetrating liver injuries with a success rate ranging
from 69 % to 100 %. Some of these studies also
suggested an algorithm for the management of penetrating
abdominal trauma [56–60]. The key points for NOM
remain: hemodynamic stability, absence of
peritonitis, and an evaluable abdomen. In hemodynamic
instability, in presence of peritonitis or evisceration and
or impalement OM should be pursued [58–60]. These
findings are particularly important in cases of gunshot
injuries. Navsaria et al. suggested as predictive criteria of
NOM failure in abdominal GSWs are: associated head
and spinal cord injuries (that preclude regular clinical
examination) and significant reduction in hemoglobin
requiring more than 2–4 units of blood transfusion in
24 h .
The role of CT scan in the evaluation of patients with
SWs has not been proven, and local wound exploration
(LWE) is considered more accurate than CT-scan .
Some papers showed an emergency laparotomy was
necessary even in presence of a negative CT-scan . Biffl
et al. considered CT-scan necessary particularly in NOM
in obese and when the wound tract is long, tangential
and difficult to determine the trajectory . Particularly
in case of GSWs the CT-scan can help in determining
the trajectory, but not all authors consider it mandatory
in all patients undergoing to NOM. Some authors did
not use CT-scan at all in their algorithm, and others
used CT-scan only in selected patients but without
explaining selection criteria [57, 63]. Velmahos et al.
reported that in GSWs the CT-scan has a specificity of
96 % and a sensibility of 90.5 % for injuries requiring
laparotomy . The potential benefit of CT should be
to reduce the rates of non-therapeutic laparotomies and
consequently to increase the patients underwent to
NOM . However the serial clinical examination
remains the gold standard to decide for OM or NOM .
In case of CT scan detection of free intra- or
retroperitoneal air, free intra-peritoneal fluid in the absence
of solid organ injury, localized bowel wall thickening,
bullet tract close to hollow viscus with surrounding
hematoma, NOM is contraindicated . A strict clinical
and hemoglobin evaluation should be done (4-hourly for
at least 48 h, once stabilized the patient could be
transferred to the ward) [57, 59, 61].
Demetriades et al.  reported a 27.6 % of cases in
which no significant intra-abdominal injuries are found at
the exploration. Thus suggests the possibility for a safe
NOM in selected cases. In case of liver injuries Demetriades
et al. showed a 28.8 % of patients treated non-operatively, a
24.3 % treated with simple surgical techniques, and a
22.5 % of patients treated with damage-control procedures,
with an overall NOM success rate (in all organ injuries)
between 60 % and 90 % . In liver penetrating injuries
angio-embolization may be a valuable tool to stop the
hemorrhage or to treat a pseudo-aneurysm when a
CT-scan blush is present [56, 57].
The main reluctance of surgeons to approach
nonoperatively a penetrating trauma is related to the doubt to
miss others abdominal lesions, especially hollow viscus
perforation . However on one hand, in patients
without peritonitis at the admission, no increase in mortality
rates in case of missed hollow viscus perforation has been
reported . On the other hand non-therapeutic and
routine laparotomy has been demonstrated to increase the
complication rate . Nevertheless OM in penetrating
liver injuries has a higher liver-related complication rate
(50–52 %) than in blunt ones .
Follow-up after successful NOM
No definitive indications exist for post-injury follow-up
and normal activity resumption in patients underwent to
NOM. Some authors suggest a post discharge CT-scan and
an outpatient visit after 4–6 weeks in case of grade II-V
lesions . In patients with uncomplicated hospital course
the activity can be resumed after 3–4 months (because of
the majority of lesions heal in 4 months) [7, 29]. Therefore
the activity can be restarted 1 month after trauma, if the
CT-scan follow-up (in grade III-V lesions) has shown a
significant healing .
The patients have to be counseled to not remain alone
for long periods and to return to the hospital
immediately if they experience and increasing abdominal pain,
lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting .
Recommendations for Operative Management (OM) in
liver trauma (blunt and penetrating)
Patients should undergo to OM in liver trauma (blunt
and penetrating) in case of hemodynamic instability,
concomitant internal organs injury, evisceration or
impalement (GoR 2 A)
Primary surgical intention should be to control the
hemorrhage, to control bile leak and to allow for an
intensive resuscitation as soon as possible (GoR 2 B)
Major hepatic resections should be avoided at first,
and considered subsequently (delayed fashion) only in
case of large devitalized liver portions and in centers with
the necessary expertise (GoR 3 B).
Angioembolisation is a useful tool in case of persistent
arterial bleeding (GoR 2 A).
The leading cause of death in liver injuries is
exsanguination. The decision for an OM in liver trauma
mainly depends from the hemodynamics patient’s status
and from the concomitant internal organ injury.
For minor (grade I-II) and moderate (grade III) liver
injuries, and in favorable cases (no major bleeding at the
laparotomy) minimal bleeding may be controlled by
packing alone or with electrocautery, bipolar devices, or argon
beam coagulation, topical hemostatic agents, omental
packing [7, 9, 67, 68].
In case of severe liver injuries (grade IV-V) (Fig. 1a, b)
and in not favorable cases (when the risk of “lethal triad”
is high or it is already present) more aggressive
procedures can be necessary (first of all hepatic manual
compression and hepatic packing, with eventually vessels
ligation, hepatic debridement, balloon tamponade up to
shunting procedures or hepatic exclusion) associated
with an intraoperative intensive resuscitation aiming to
revert the lethal triad [9, 68].
In all cases of Damage Control Surgery (DCS) for liver
trauma when the risk to develop abdominal compartment
syndrome is high and when a second look after patients
hemodynamic stabilization would be needed, a temporary
abdominal closure can be safely considered [9, 67, 68].
Hepatic packing is the first maneuver in severe hepatic
injury (Fig. 3). It could be manual at first and pads
compression subsequently both aiming to stop the bleeding
[7, 9, 67–72]. Do not pack excessively with resultant
compression of the inferior cava vein [7, 67]. Packing
must be removed or changed within 48–72 h to avoid
the risk of intra-abdominal sepsis .
The Pringle maneuver (with the purpose to
temporarily stop the portal and arterial flow into the injured liver)
is either the second option, particularly in case of
Fig. 3 Liver packing
persistent bleeding after hepatic packing, or to be done
concurrently with packing in the patient dying of a
massive liver injury (Fig. 4) (many authors advocated
that clamping periods of 20 min with 5 min left for liver
reperfusion decreases ischemia-reperfusion) [7, 9, 67].
In case of deep tracts into the liver parenchyma balloon
tamponade, using a Foley or a Sengstaken-Blakemore
catheter to control the hemorrhage is a viable option in
patients not responding to packing alone (Fig. 5) . The
catheter is brought out through the skin, and can be
removed after deflation 3–4 days after when the bleeding
Fibrin sealants can be use in trauma patients and are
apparently safe. These agents combine fibrin glue with
thrombin, calcium chloride and aprotinin to form a
stable clot . However at present not many studies on
human have been published, but in animal models these
materials have been found to improve the bleeding
control in high-grade liver lesions [75, 76].
In high-grade liver trauma, anatomic hepatic resection
can be considered as a surgical option. Polanco et al. in
a 15-years series of 1049 patients with liver injuries
showed a decrease of mortality (9–24 % compared to
46–80 % at the beginning of the last century) and low
complication rate (morbidity related to liver resection
was 30 %) [3, 77, 78]. Two-thirds of 216 patients with
high grade injury (with blunt and penetrating trauma)
underwent surgery, and 56 underwent liver resection: 21
segmentectomies, 8 right lobectomy, 3 left lobectomies,
23 non-anatomic resections, and 1 total hepatectomy
with liver transplantation. The authors reported a
mortality rate from liver injury of 9 %, and an overall mortality
near to 18 % . However, the role of liver resection in
trauma patients remains controversial and the published
Fig. 4 Pringle maneuver
Fig. 5 Baloon tamponade
series demonstrate the frequency of liver resections in
trauma ranges between 2 % and 5 % . In unstable
patients and during damage control surgery a non-anatomic
resection is safer and easier [7, 9, 79]. Either anatomic or
non-anatomic liver resection can be safely made with
stapling device in experienced hands .
If bleeding persists despite the initial maneuver (hepatic
packing, Pringle maneuver), and an evident hepatic artery
lesion is found during operation, the artery should be
repaired. If it’s impossible, a selective hepatic artery
ligation can be considered as a viable option. In this case
cholecystectomy (for right or common hepatic artery
ligation) should be performed to avoid gallbladder
necrosis . This procedure is used in 1 % of patients with
severe liver trauma . In fact post-operative
angioembolization is a viable option, when possible, allowing
hemorrhage control while reducing the complications
(Fig. 2) [7, 9, 81]. In fact, after artery ligation, the risk of
hepatic necrosis, biloma and abscesses increases.
Portal vein injuries should be repair primarily, and a vein
ligation is to be avoided because of liver necrosis or massive
bowel edema may occur. Liver Packing and a second look
or liver resection are preferable to portal ligation .
When the Pringle maneuver or arterial control is fails
to control bleeding, and bleeding persists from behind
the liver, a retro-hepatic caval or hepatic vein injury is
present . These lesions often occur when the
suspensory ligaments, diaphragm, or liver parenchyma are
disrupted . Therapeutic options are 3: 1) tamponade
with hepatic packing, 2) direct repair (with or without
vascular isolation), and 3) lobar resection . Actually
the most successful method of managing severe venous
injuries is liver packing [7, 82–84]. Direct venous
repair is less safe in non-experienced hands, with a high
mortality rate . However, in the past, venous repair
cases with or without shunting were described. However
the most of these descriptions still anecdotal; these lesions
require a planned surgical intervention when suspected
. Pacher and Feliciano proposed direct venous repair
without shunting . When hepatic vascular exclusion is
necessary, different types of shunting procedures have
been described. The most frequent type of shunt used is
the veno-veno bypass (femoral to axillary or jugular by
pass) or fenestrated stent grafts by surgeons familiar with
their use [7, 9, 79, 85]. The atrio-caval shunt, introduced
by Schrock in 1968, by pass the retro-hepatic cava blood
with a chest tube put into the inferior cava vein, up the
liver, through the right atrium. Mortality rates are high,
due to the complexity of the lesions and the difficulty of
the procedure . Liver exclusion consists to stop the
blood flow to the liver and out of the liver, clamping
inferior vein cave (supra-hepatic and sub-hepatic cava), the
hepatic hilum (Pringle maneuver), associated or not with
intra-abdominal aorta clamping . This is generally
poorly tolerated in the unstable patient with major blood
In emergency setting, hepatic transplantation has been
described in case of liver avulsion or total crush injury,
when a total hepatic resection must be done. In these
cases portal and systemic venous systems must be
decompressed with a porto-caval shunt. During the
anhepatic phase (which should last no more than 36 h) the
patient will require constant intra-venous fresh-frozen
plasma and glucose . This procedure is also called
2step transplantation. However the majority of patients
who underwent to liver transplantation in trauma setting
are transplanted during the 1st week after the injury, due
to liver failure in almost 50 % of cases . Survivorship
has been reported at 60 %.
At the moment, the exact role of post-operative
angioembolization is not well defined. Some authors reported
high rate of patients who require angiography to control
arterial bleeding post DCS (52–62 %) [87, 88] and others
reported low mortality (12 % vs 36 %) in patients with grade
IV-V hepatic injuries who underwent angio-embolization
. A French retrospective study has reported two
principal indications in the acute post-injury phase for this
procedure after high-grade liver injuries: 1) after primary
operative hemostatic control in hemodynamically stable or
stabilized patients, with CT-scan evidence of active
bleeding, and 2) as adjunctive hemostatic control in patients with
uncontrolled suspect arterial bleeding despite emergency
laparotomy . However not all authors agree about
angiography use, and a high rate of post-procedure
complications (parenchymal necrosis, bile leak, abscess and liver
failure) are reported [91, 92].
1General, Emergency and Trauma Surgery, Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital, P.zza
OMS 1, 24128 Bergamo, Italy. 2Emergency and Trauma Surgery, Maggiore
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