Objective: Vascular injury is a leading cause of death and disability in military and civilian settings. Most wartime and an increasing amount of civilian vascular trauma arises from penetrating mechanisms of injury due to gunshot or explosion. The objective of this study was to provide a comprehensive examination of penetrating lower extremity arterial injury and to characterize long-term limb salvage and differences related to mechanisms of injury. Methods: The military trauma registries of the United States and the United Kingdom were analyzed to identify service members who sustained penetrating lower limb arterial injury (2001-2014). Treatment and limb salvage data were studied and comparisons made of patients whose penetrating vascular trauma arose from explosion (group 1) vs gunshot (group 2). Standardized statistical testing was used, with Bonferroni corrections for multiple comparisons. Results: The cohort consisted of 568 combat casualties (mean age, 25.2 years) with 597 injuries (explosion, n = 416; gunshot, n = 181). Group 1 had higher Injury Severity Score (P < .05) and Mangled Extremity Severity Score (P < .0001), required more blood transfusion (P < .05), and had more tibial (P < .01) and popliteal (P < .05) arterial injuries; group 2 had more profunda femoris injuries (P < .05). Initial surgical management for the whole cohort included vein interposition graft (33%), ligation (31%), primary repair with or without patch angioplasty (16%), temporary vascular shunting (15%), and primary amputation (6%). No difference in patency of arterial reconstruction was found between group 1 and group 2, although group 1 had a higher incidence of primary (13% vs 2%; P < .05) and secondary (19% vs 9%; P < .05) amputation. Similarly, longer term freedom from amputation was lower for group 1 than for group 2 (68% vs 89% at 5.5 years; Cox hazard ratio, 0.30; P < .0001), as was physical functioning (36-Item Short Form Health Survey data; mean, 39.80 vs 43.20; P < .05). Conclusions: The majority of wartime lower extremity arterial injuries result from an explosive mechanism that preferentially affects the tibial vasculature and results in poorer long-term limb salvage compared with those injured with firearms. The mortality associated with immediate limb salvage attempts is low, and delayed amputations occur weeks later, affording the patient involvement in the decision-making and rehabilitation planning. We recommend assertive attempts at vascular repair and limb salvage for service members injured by explosive and gunshot mechanisms.
- Arterial trauma
- Lower limb