Diagnosis and Treatment of Non Cardiac Thoracic Trauma


The Diagnosis And Treatment Of Non-Cardiac
Thoracic Trauma
JV O’Connor1, J Adamski2

Director of Thoracic and Vascular Trauma, R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, Associate Professor of Surgery, University of
Maryland School of Medicine Baltimore, Maryland, USA; 2Assistant Professor of Surgery, R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma
Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Penetrating and blunt force mechanisms frequently result in thoracic trauma. Thoracic injuries cover the spectrum from trivial
to lethal, and more than half are associated with head, abdomen or extremity trauma. Fortunately over eighty percent of
injuries can be managed non-operatively utilizing tube thoracostomy, appropriate analgesia and aggressive respiratory therapy.
Patients requiring emergency thoracotomy are either in shock or have life threatening injuries and, as expected, have significant
mortality and morbidity. Injury to the thorax directly accounts for approximately 25% of trauma related mortality and is a
contributing factor in another 25%. Early mortality results from haemorrhage, catastrophic injury or associated head or
abdominal trauma. Not unexpectedly, late deaths are related to sepsis and organ failure.
Blunt injury to the thorax most commonly results from motor vehicle collisions, with motorcycle accidents, pedestrians
struck and falls next in frequency. Stab wound and gunshot wounds comprise the vast majority of penetrating injuries. In
general the mortality from penetrating injury is higher and related to vascular injury and shock. Mortality from blunt trauma
often results from abdominal and, especially, head injury.
Rapid assessment and interventions, such as tube thoracostomy and airway control, can be life saving. The patient’s
haemodynamic status drives early treatment, often necessitating emergency surgery. Detailed imaging studies are reserved for
haemodynamically stable patients. The...