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BACKGROUND: The incidence of penetrating abdominal trauma in Western Europe is low. While non-operative management of blunt trauma has become the gold standard, the management of penetrating trauma is still controversial. Nonoperative management (NOM) and laparoscopy are currently used in selected patients, reducing the rate of unnecessary laparotomy.
METHODS: We retrospectively reviewed a 20-years period from the Trauma Registry of our Trauma Center. 6523 patients were admitted for thoraco-abdominal trauma (5861 blunt vs 662 penetrating). We sorted the 114 patients with penetrating abdominal trauma in 2 groups for period (1989-2000 vs 2001-08, before and after the establishment of dedicated trauma unit) analyzing their demographics, clinical, therapeutic characteristics and the outcome in comparison. RESULTS: In the latest period a significant increase in the incidence of penetrating trauma has been observed (doubled from 4.17/year up to 8.53/year, accounting now for 13.95% of all trauma laparotomies vs 7.8% in the past decade). A reduction of GSW (30% vs 12.5%, p=ns) occurred while no differences have been recorded in sex, age, prognostic parameters at arrival such as mean GCS (11.8 vs13.2), ISS (22 vs 18), pH,BE and blood transfusion (6.4 vs 4.3 U) requirement. Interestingly a markedly significant change has been observed in the demographics of the victims (67.2% were of extra-EU origin vs 8% in the previous decade, p<0.01). Recently the use of NOM spread widely in selected stable patients (21.9%). The failure rate of NOM was 14.3%. The percentage of unnecessary laparotomies decreased from 36% to 21.1% (p=ns). The introduction of laparoscopy was helpful in achieving a reliable, less invasive exploration, allowing detection of the peritoneal penetration and complete visceral exploration. Two GSW (4%) vs 3 (5.8%) cases of the latest years required Damage Control Surgery. A recent significant reduction in mortality and morbidity rate has been recorded (respectively 3.85% vs 18%, p<0.05; 20% vs 39%, p=ns). CONCLUSION: The recent immigration phenomenon and social changes contributed towards a significant rise in the incidence of penetrating trauma in Italy in the last decade associated to changes in the mechanism of injury. The increased use of NOM and laparoscopy contributed in decreasing the incidence of unnecessary laparotomies as well as overall morbidity and mortality.