Digital Rectal Examination for Trauma: Does Every Patient Need One?

Porter, John M.; Ursic, Caesar M.
May 2001
American Surgeon;May2001, Vol. 67 Issue 5, p438
Academic Journal
The digital rectal examination is widely accepted as an essential component in the initial assessment of trauma. However, no data have been published that justify its routine use in all seriously injured patients. The objective of this study was to determine what if any impact on subsequent treatment and management decisions the initial digital rectal examination had on injured patients arriving at our emergency department (ED). We conducted a prospective observational study of all injured patients arriving at a Level II trauma center over a period of 6 months. A digital rectal examination was performed on all patients during the secondary survey phase of their initial evaluation shortly after arrival to the ED. The results of the rectal examination were noted for each patient with particular attention placed on the presence or absence of gross blood, Hemoccult result, prostatic examination, rectal vault integrity, and rectal sphincter tone. In addition the patient's hemodynamic parameters while in the ED and the injuries that were sustained were noted, as was their final disposition. Four hundred twenty-three patients were admitted to the ED after sustaining serious injuries. The mean Injury Severity Score was 9.96. The prostatic examination was normal in more than 99 per cent of patients; no high-riding or nonpalpable prostate glands were noted. Twenty-two patients (5.2%) were Hemoccult positive, but in none of these cases did the presence of occult blood in the stool lead to a change in the initial management or diagnostic approach. Three patients (0.7%) with penetrating injuries to the perineal/pelvic area had gross blood on digital rectal examination that prompted operative exploration to rule out a lower gastrointestinal injury. All three had rectal injuries confirmed at surgery. Rectal sphincter tone was normal in 406 (96%) patients, weak in 17 (4%), and absent in none. The only patient in whom the sphincter tone influenced management was an indivi...


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