Abdominal trauma


These guidelines have been produced to guide clinical decision making for the medical, nursing and allied health staff of Perth Children's Hospital. They are not strict protocols, and they do not replace the judgement of a senior clinician. Clinical common-sense should be applied at all times. These clinical guidelines should never be relied on as a substitute for proper assessment with respect to the particular circumstances of each case and the needs of each patient. Clinicians should also consider the local skill level available and their local area policies before following any guideline. 

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To guide Emergency Department (ED) staff in the assessment and management of children who present with acute abdominal injury.


  • Trauma / serious injury is a leading cause of death in children in Australia.
  • Early ABCDE (airway, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure) interventions improve morbidity and mortality secondary to major trauma.

Key points1,2,3

  • In Australia, blunt abdominal trauma is more common than penetrating abdominal injuries.
  • Children are more vulnerable to abdominal injury than adults because of their relatively compact torsos, larger viscera that extend below the costal margin and less overlying abdominal fat and weaker musculature for protection. 
  • Children can sustain significant internal abdominal injury despite minimal signs of external trauma. The most common injuries are to the liver and spleen.
  • Persistent tachycardia may be the only clue to intra-abdominal haemorrhage in the child without an overt source of bleeding.
  • Pelvic fracture is a marker of severe injury; there is often associated head, abdominal and/or chest trauma.
  • Computerised Tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen is the investigation of choice in stable children with abdominal trauma.
  • The management of major abdominal / pelvic trauma requires a team approach; early liaison with a paediatric surgeon and paediatric tertiary centre is vital. Activate trauma call where appropriate.
  • Consider non accidental injury (NAI) in children with unexplained abdominal trauma and/or abdominal bruising, particularly in non-mobile infants.
  • All injury presentations in children under 2 years must have an Early Childhood Injury Proforma (MR301.3) completed (internal WA Health only).

Initial stabilization of child with abdominal trauma2,3

Primary survey (see Trauma - Serious injury guideline)

  • <c> Catastrophic haemorrhage
  • A – Airway with C-spine support
  • B – Breathing +/- ventilatory support
  • C - Circulation and haemorrhage control
  • D - Disability, pain scale, level of consciousness
  • E - Exposure, temperature
Analgesia should be initiated early and titrated to effect.

Vital signs 

  • Complete and record a full set of observations on the observation and response tool and record additional information on the Clinical Comments chart.
    • include observation of peripheral perfusion.
  • The trend and response to fluid therapy will reflect haemodynamic stability. 

Secondary survey 

  • Includes examination of the abdomen, back, pelvis, genitalia and rectum. 

Examination of the abdomen

  • Look for bruising (e.g. seat belt), abrasions, lacerations and abdominal distension.
  • Aim to exclude tenderness, rebound, guarding or rigidity (which will require evaluation by a surgeon and/or a CT scan).
  • In children with significant pain, carefully titrating parenteral opiates will decrease distress and allow a more accurate clinical assessment.
  • In the intubated child with possible intra-abdominal injury, the value of clinical examination is limited, and these children will require a CT scan of the abdomen.
  • In major trauma, rectal examination should be performed, assessing:
    • rectal tone (for possible spinal injury)
    • rectal blood



  • Bloods: Group and crossmatch, full blood count, electrolytes, liver function tests, lipase, coagulation screen, blood gas and blood glucose. 
  • Urinalysis


  • Trauma series X-rays in the resuscitation room (chest, pelvis and lateral cervical spine), when indicated. Thoracic and lumbar spine may be indicated, based on mechanism or clinical findings.
  • CT Scan is the investigation of choice in STABLE CHILDREN with abdominal trauma.
  • Focussed Assessment by Sonography for Trauma (FAST)
    • Limited role, as operator dependent and only performed by clinicians with appropriate training.
    • Does not alter need for CT scan.
  • Formal Ultrasound
    • Little role, except when CT scan is unavailable.

Management of child with significant abdominal trauma

  • High flow oxygen.
  • Vascular access x 2.

If signs of shock or uncontrolled bleeding:

  • Tranexamic acid: 15 mg/kg (max 1000 mg) IV over 10 minutes4
  • Fluids:
    • Intravascular bolus of 10 mL/kg sodium chloride 0.9% or uncrossmatched blood (if readily available)3
    • Repeat 10 mL/kg if still shocked
    • Ongoing volume resuscitation with blood product beyond 20 mL/kg consider activating massive transfusion protocol. Refer to Critical Bleeding and ROTEM Algorithm (Transfusion Medicine Manual)
  • Failure to respond to fluids and blood indicates a need for urgent laparotomy if no other obvious source of haemorrhage and spinal shock excluded.1,2,3


  • Nasogastric tube: to decompress the stomach. May also detect blood in the stomach. Use an orogastric tube if concern for base of skull fracture.
  • Urinary catheter: to monitor fluid resuscitation and to look for haematuria. If a urethral injury is suspected (see below), seek surgical advice before insertion.

Contraindications to urethral catheterisation following trauma:

  • The following features suggest urethral disruption, which needs to be excluded by retrograde urethrogram / cystogram before catheterisation can be safely performed:

    • Perineal haematoma or bruising (including scrotum / labia).

    • Blood at the urethral meatus.

    • A high-riding prostate on rectal examination.

    • Unstable pelvic fracture.

    • Inability to void (in a conscious patient).

  • Ongoing management is dictated by the haemodynamic response of the child to fluid resuscitation. CT scan may not be possible in a very small number of exsanguinating children with deteriorating vital signs despite fluid resuscitation. In this situation, early surgical consultation regarding urgent laparotomy is required.

Penetrating trauma2,3

  • Usually requires exploration by laparoscopy or laparotomy.
  • Remember to log roll the patient and examine the back to exclude other injuries and exit wounds.
  • An erect abdominal x-ray or lateral decubitus film may indicate the presence of free air.

Pelvic fractures

  • A child with a fractured pelvis has been exposed to severe trauma.
  • Major differences to adult pelvic fractures:
    • Greater energy is required to cause fracture
    • Avulsion fractures
    • Single fractures
  • Presence of a pelvic fracture suggests associated injuries  other skeletal, head, abdominal and pulmonary injuries. The management of these usually takes priority over the pelvic fracture management.
  • Bladder injury can occur with straddle ‘fall-astride’ type mechanism.
  • Vascular injury and exsanguination in children is rare.
  • A pelvic binder should be used for all suspected pelvic fractures.


  1. All children with a significant abdominal or pelvic injury will require admission under an appropriate surgical unit.
  2. Children with significant ongoing abdominal pain following trauma should not be discharged, regardless of negative imaging results. CT Scan is not 100% sensitive for all intra-abdominal injuries.
  3. Visible abdominal wall bruising increases the risk of serious intra-abdominal injury and requires a surgical opinion and often admission for serial clinical examination of the abdomen.
  4. A “handlebar” mechanism of upper abdominal injury poses a significant risk of intra-abdominal (particularly solid organ or duodenal) injury and should therefore lower the threshold for surgical referral and admission.
  5. Young children with a significant mechanism of injury but who are apparently injury free or have only minor injuries should be considered for observation (12-24 hours) under the appropriate surgical unit.
  6. Parents of discharged children should be given clear instructions to return should a child’s condition change.


  1. Saladino RA & Conti K (2022) Pediatric blunt abdominal trauma: Initial evaluation and stabilization, UpToDate. Available from Pediatric blunt abdominal trauma: Initial evaluation and stabilization - UpToDate (health.wa.gov.au)
  2. Advanced Paediatric Life Support: A Practical Approach to Emergencies, Samuels, M, Wieteska S 6th Edition 2017 Wiley Blackwell Available from: https://www.apls.org.au
  3. Cameron P, Browne GJ, Mitra B, Dalziel S, Craig S. Textbook of Paediatric Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Elsevier Australia; 2023
  4. Tranexamic acid. In: UpToDate. [Internet]. [cited 2023 Dec 06]. Available from: Tranexamic acid: Drug information - UpToDate (health.wa.gov.au)

Endorsed by:  Drugs and Therapeutics Committee  Date: Dec 2023

 Review date:  Dec 2026

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