Hypothesis: Emergency cesarean sections in trauma patients are not justified and should be abandoned. Setting and Design: A multi- institutional, retrospective cohort study was conducted of level I trauma centers. Methods: Trauma admissions from nine level I trauma centers from January 1986 through December 1994 were reviewed. Pregnant women who underwent emergency cesarean sections were identified. Demographic and clinical data were obtained on all patients undergoing a cesarean section. Fetal distress was defined by bradycardia, deceleration, or lack of fetal heart tones (FHTs). Maternal distress was defined by shock (systolic blood pressure < 90) or acute decompensation. Statistical analyses were performed. Results: Of the 114,952 consecutive trauma admissions, more than 441 pregnant women required 32 emergency cesarean sections. All were performed for fetal distress, maternal distress, or both. Overall, 15 (45%) of the fetuses and 23 (72%) of the mothers survived. Of 33 fetuses delivered, 13 had no FHTs and none survived. Twenty infants (potential survivors) had FHTs and an estimated gestational age (EGA) of greater than or equal to 26 weeks, and 75% survived. Infant survival was independent of maternal distress or maternal Injury Severity Score. The five infant deaths in the group of potential survivors resulted from delayed recognition of fetal distress, and 60% of these deaths were in mothers with mild to moderate injuries (Injury Severity Score < 16). Conclusions: In pregnant trauma patients, infant viability is defined by the presence of FHTs, estimated gestational age greater than or equal to 26 weeks. In viable infants, survival after emergency cesarean section is acceptable (75%). Infant survival is independent of maternal distress or Injury Severity Score. Sixty percent of infant deaths resulted from delay in recognition of fetal distress and cesarean section. These were potentially preventable. Given the definition of fetal viability, our initial hypothesis is invalid.
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