Seatbelt sign in a case of blunt abdominal trauma; what lies beneath it?

Journal Article (Journal Article)


The reported incidence of hollow viscus injuries (HVI) in blunt trauma patients is approximately 1%. The most common site of injury to the intestine in blunt abdominal trauma (BAT) is the small bowel followed by colon, with mesenteric injuries occurring three times more commonly than bowel injuries. Isolated colon injury is a rarely encountered condition. Clinical assessment alone in patients with suspected intestinal or mesenteric injury after blunt trauma is associated with unacceptable diagnostic delays.

Case presentation

This is a case of a 31-year-old man, admitted to the emergency department after being the restrained driver, involved in a car accident. After initial resuscitation, focused assessment with sonography for trauma examination (FAST) was performed revealing a subhepatic mass, suspicious for intraperitoneal hematoma. A computed tomography scan (CT) that followed showed a hematoma of the mesocolon of the ascending colon with active extravasation of intravenous contrast material. An exploratory laparotomy was performed, hemoperitomeum was evacuated, and a subserosal hematoma of the cecum and ascending colon with areas of totally disrupted serosal wall was found. Hematoma of the adjacent mesocolon expanding to the root of mesenteric vessels was also noted. A right hemicolectomy along with primary ileocolonic anastomosis was performed. Patient's recovery progressed uneventfully.


Identifying an isolated traumatic injury to the bowel or mesentery after BAT can be a clinical challenge because of its subtle and nonspecific clinical findings; meeting that challenge may eventually lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment with subsequent increase in associated morbidity and mortality. Isolated colon injury is a rare finding after blunt trauma and usually accompanied by other intra-abdominal organ injuries. Abdominal 'seatbelt' sign, ecchymosis of the abdominal wall, increasing abdominal pain and distension are all associated with HVI. However, the accuracy of these findings remains low. Diagnostic peritoneal lavage, ultrasound, CT and diagnostic laparoscopy are used to evaluate BAT. Although CT has become the main diagnostic tool for this type of injuries, there are few pathognomonic signs of colon injury on CT. Given the potential for devastating outcomes, prompt diagnosis and treatment is necessary and high clinical suspicion is required.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Vailas, MG; Moris, D; Orfanos, S; Vergadis, C; Papalampros, A

Published Date

  • October 30, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 15 /

Start / End Page

  • 121 -

PubMed ID

  • 26518620

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC4628356

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1471-2482

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1471-2482

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1186/s12893-015-0108-z


  • eng