Nontherapeutic laparotomy in American combat casualties: A 10-year review

Thomas A. Mitchell, Tara Hutchison, Tyson E. Becker, James K. Aden, Lorne Blackbourne, Christopher E. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The civilian literature has expanded the indications for selective nonoperative management (SNOM) for abdominal trauma to minimize morbidity from nontherapeutic laparotomies (NTLs); however, this treatment modality remains controversial and rare in austere settings. This study aimed to quantify the percentage of NTL and incidence of failed SNOM performed in theater and to define each of their respective intra-abdominal-related morbidities. METHODS: A retrospective evaluation of all patients who underwent a laparotomy from 2002 to 2011 during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) was performed for patients who survived a minimum of 24 hours. With the use of DRG International Classification of Diseases - 9th Rev. procedure codes, a therapeutic laparotomy was defined by the presence of a defined intraperitoneal or retroperitoneal procedure; an NTL was defined by the absence of a defined intraperitoneal or retroperitoneal procedure. Second, patients transferred from North American Treaty Organization Role II to Role III medical treatment facilities to be operated on were deemed failed SNOM. Finally, intra-abdominal complications and mortality were identified for patients undergoing therapeutic laparotomy, NTL, and failed SNOM. RESULTS: Blunt, burn, and penetrating injuries accounted for 38.5% (n = 490), 1.1% (n = 14), and 60.4% (n = 769) of all laparotomies in the OEF and OIF, respectively. Thirty-two percent of all laparotomies performed during the OEF and OIF campaigns were NTL; specifically, the NTL rates in OEF and OIF were 38.2% and 28.6%, respectively. In addition, 31.6% and 32.2% of all penetrating and blunt injury mechanisms resulted in an NTL, respectively. The percentage of all patients identified as failing SNOM was 7.5% (n = 95). The early intra-abdominal complication rate for failed SNOM and for all patients undergoing NTL was 2.1% and 1.7%, respectively. CONCLUSION: The OIF and OEF combined NTL rate was 32.1%, with an associated 1.7% intra-abdominal early complication rate. The infrequent application of SNOM in a deployed military environment is likely secondary to unpredictable fragmentation trajectories and related blast injury patterns, limited medical resources including computed tomography, and a complex aeromedical evacuation system preventing serial observation. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Epidemiologic study, level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S171-S175
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number3 SUPPL. 2
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Laparotomy
  • Operation Enduring Freedom
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom
  • nontherapeutic laparotomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Surgery


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