Chest Trauma


Article Author:
Ashika Jain


Article Editor:
Muhammad Waseem


Editors In Chief:
Jon Parham
Abigail Frank
Jon Sivoravong


Managing Editors:
Orawan Chaigasame
Carrie Smith
Abdul Waheed
Frank Smeeks
Kristina Soman-Faulkner
Benjamin Eovaldi
Radia Jamil
Sobhan Daneshfar
Saad Nazir
William Gossman
Pritesh Sheth
Hassam Zulfiqar
Navid Mahabadi
Steve Bhimji
John Shell
Matthew Varacallo
Ahmad Malik
Mark Pellegrini
James Hughes
Beata Beatty
Hajira Basit
Phillip Hynes


Updated:
3/13/2019 5:28:53 PM

Introduction

Chest trauma has quickly risen the second most common traumatic injury in non-intentional trauma. Trauma to the chest comes with the highest mortality; in some studies, up to 60%. [1] Quick thinking and early interventions are key factors for evaluations, management, and survival.

Etiology

Chest trauma can be a result of penetrating or blunt trauma. Blunt trauma, on the whole, is a more common cause of traumatic injuries and can be equally life-threatening. It is important to know the mechanism as management may be different.[2][3]  Most blunt trauma is managed non operatively, whereas penetrating chest trauma often requires operative intervention.

Epidemiology

All age ranges are at risk for chest trauma. After head and extremity trauma, chest trauma is the third most common blunt injury and quickly rising to second. Motor vehicle injuries are the most common of these. However, this is declining with the advent of improved vehicle safety.[3][4][5][6][7]

Evaluation

Early recognition of trauma to the chest is a priority. The first 3 steps of trauma evaluation involve evaluation, recognition, and intervention of potential injuries to “the box.” Following a routine method of evaluation reduces missed injuries. Injuries to the heart and lungs are primary and vital since they have the highest mortality if missed. Injuries to other thoracic structures also need to be considered; ribs, clavicle, trachea, bronchi, esophagus, and arteries including the aorta and veins need to be evaluated in the secondary and tertiary survey.

The primary survey serves as a time to identify immediately life-threatening injuries. These injuries should be addressed at the time of identification.

Potential injuries that should be ruled out are:

  • Large hemothorax
  • Large pneumothorax
  • Pericardial effusion with or without tamponade

Once the initial exam is complete and adjunct imaging is complete, a secondary survey may reveal:

  • Rib fractures
  • Small hemothorax
  • Small pneumothorax
  • Pulmonary contusion
  • Chest wall contusion

There are physical exam findings that increase suspicion of chest trauma. Contusions of the chest wall in the pattern of seatbelts, point tenderness over the ribs, decreased breath sounds over the hemothorax, tachypnea, hypoxia, alone or conjunction with other findings suggest thoracic trauma. The mechanism should also be considered. If mechanism warrants a high level of suspicion, an ECG should be done to evaluate cardiac contusion.[5][7]

Diagnostics

While chest radiography prevails, it does have limitations. Since chest radiography is achieved in the supine position, small and medium-sized pneumothoraces and hemothoraces may be missed.[8][9][10]

The extended-Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (eFAST) may be done with the primary survey, especially in the unstable patient. This can help quickly identify places with air and or blood and direct, definitive management. Compared to supine chest radiography, bedside eFAST is more sensative to evaluate for pneumothroax. [11][12][13][14]

The 4 views of the traditional Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST) exam include the cardiac (subxiphoid) window, right upper quadrant (RUQ, or Morrison’s pouch), left upper quadrant (LUQ) and suprapubic (bladder) window. Presence of a black collection outside of an organ, viscera, or pericardia suggests a +FAST exam.

The EFAST includes pulmonary views to evaluate for pneumothorax and hemothorax, in addition to the traditional four views. eFAST should be started in the area where there is the highest suspicion for injury. If the thorax is of concern, then this is where the eFAST should begin. This includes anterior chest wall evaluation between ribs for pneumothorax and looking for the continuation of the spinal stripe caudal to the diaphragm in the RUQ and LUQ windows to evaluate for hemothorax. The spinal stripe can be present in cases of pleural effusion. Similar to a positive FAST exam, any presence of fluid in the trauma patient is assumed to be blood.

Computed tomography (CT) is more sensitive and specific. However, this requires the patient to be stable enough for transport.

Other adjuncts include endoscopy, bronchoscopy, and electrocardiography to complete evaluation when warranted. [15][16]

Treatment / Management

Once the ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation) have been addressed, injury specific interventions should be undertaken.

Immediate life-threatening injuries require prompt intervention, such as emergent tube thoracostomy for large pneumothoraces, and initial management of hemothorax. For cases of hemothorax, adequate drainage is imperative to prevent retained hemothorax. Retained hemothorax can lead to empyema requiring video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery.[15][17]

The majority of thoracic trauma can be managed non operatively. However, operative management should not be delayed when appropriate. Operative exploration of thoracic injuries should be considered if tube thoracostomy drainage exceeds 1000-1500mL immediately, about 200 mL per hour for 2 to 4 hours or ongoing resuscitation (blood transfusion, persistent hypotension) with no other discernable cause.

Admission

Minor injuries may simply require close monitoring and pain control. Care should be taken in the young and the elderly. Patients with 3 or more rib fractures, a flail segment, and any number of rib fractures with pulmonary contusions, hemopneumothorax, hypoxia, or pre-existing pulmonary disease should be monitored at an advanced level of care.

Pain Control

Pain control greatly affects mortality and morbidity in patients with chest trauma.[18]  Pain leads to splints which worsen or prevent healing. In many cases, can lead to pneumonia.Early analgesia should be considered to decrease splinting.  In the acute setting, push doses of short-acting narcotics should be used.

Other pain control options include interpleural nerve blocks, transdermal patches, intravenous patient control analgesia (PCA) and epidural analgesia.

Nonnarcotic transdermal patches are safe pain management options for many patients. It should be considered for patients with persistent chest wall pain despite lack of confirmed rib fractures, the patient's being discharged or as an adjunct while admitted.

Antibiotics

Prophylactic antibiotics administration for tube thoracostomy for blunt thoracic trauma did not reduce the incidence of empyema or pneumonia when placed with sterile technique.[19]

It should be considered in cases of grossly contaminated wounds, or in cases where the sterile technique was broken.

Operative Management of Rib Fractures

Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) has been shown to decrease mortality in patients with flail chest, shorten the duration of mechanical ventilation, reduce hospital length of stay, and reduce intensive care length of stay. [20]

Differential Diagnosis

A complete primary, secondary, and tertiary survey should be completed to avoid missed or confounding injuries.

Pearls and Other Issues

Special Populations

Geriatric patients have higher mortality compared to younger patients with the same injuries.

Elderly patients with a single rib fracture have twice the mortality as their younger counterparts with the same injury. Mortality increases by 19% for each additional rib and the risk of pneumonia by 27%.[21][22]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Chest trauma is a common problem encountered by emergency department physicians. Because there are usually many other organs involved in chest trauma, the condition is best managed by a multidisciplinary team that consists of a trauma surgeon, nurse practitioner, anesthesiologist, thoracic surgeon, ICU nurses and a cardiac surgeon. In many cases, it takes enormous force to cause injury to the organs inside the chest cavity and associated organ injury is common. 

Depending on the extent of injury, the outcomes of chest trauma vary. For isolated rib fractures, the prognosis is good, but if the aortic has been disrupted or there is lung or cardiac contusion, the recovery is often prolonged. The highest morbidity following chest trauma is seen in the very young and very old patients.[23][24] (Level V)


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Chest Trauma - Questions

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A 35-year-old male is involved in a head-on motor vehicle accident. On arrival to the emergency department, he has severe bruises to his chest but is otherwise stable. The chest radiograph reveals a widened mediastinum. A CT aortogram is ordered, which reveals a traumatic aortic rupture. What is the most common site of aortic rupture after severe blunt trauma to the chest?



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A 17-year-old is involved in a 20-foot fall and has severe chest trauma. The patient is short of breath and tachypneic. What test best differentiates pulmonary contusion from a rupture of the large airways?



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A patient who is unconscious following a motor vehicle accident has no focal neurological signs. He has a BP of 130/80 mm Hg. Chest x-ray reveals a left pleural collection and a widened mediastinum. Hematuria is present. What investigative procedure is urgent?



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A barricaded subject decided to exit through a second-floor window. He landed on concrete approximately 20 feet below. He is anxious, restless, and cyanotic. The left side of his chest does not appear to move, and he complains of chest pain. Breath sounds are present but diminished bilaterally, and the trachea is midline. Radial pulse is present. Blood pressure is 110/80 mmHg, respiratory rate is 40, and heart rate is 105. What is the highest priority in the management of this patient?



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Which of the following is a false statement about pulmonary contusion?



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A very thin 80-year-old woman is left at an emergency room by a family member who reports that she stopped eating and is not "her usual self." No further history is available. Physical exam shows normal vital signs, an arteriovenous fistula of the left forearm, crepitation, and ecchymosis over the left rib cage. Chest x-ray confirms multiple left rib fractures, without pneumothorax. Which would be the least likely etiology for her rib fractures?



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Which of the following statements is not true about an emergency department thoracotomy?



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After being involved in a motor vehicle accident, the chest x-ray shows a widened mediastinum. The patient is hemodynamically unstable. Which of the following is the diagnostic test of choice for this patient?



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A patient involved in a motor vehicle accident has a traumatic injury to his proximal descending aorta. Which of the following techniques is not currently acceptable in a stable patient?



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A patient sustains severe chest trauma. The patient is short of breath and tachypneic. What is the best test to differentiate pulmonary contusion from a rupture of the large airways?



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Which of the following is not a sign of a blunt injury to the chest?



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What is the most common physiologically significant injury resulting from blunt chest trauma?



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A 79-year-old male is a restrained driver in a motor vehicle collision. Upon arrival, he is repeated states that he cannot breathe. Initial vital signs are heart rate 115 bpm, blood pressure 110/85 mmHg, respiratory rate 24/minute, and oxygen saturation 91%. The primary survey is normal, although the provider listening to the chest states that the trauma bay is too loud to hear if the breath sounds are decreased on the left. Secondary survey reveals a contusion across his chest consistent with a seat belt. Supine trauma chest x-ray is normal. What is the next step in his care?



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Chest Trauma - References

References

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Casós SR,Richardson JD, Role of thoracoscopy in acute management of chest injury. Current opinion in critical care. 2006 Dec     [PubMed]
Chou YP,Lin HL,Wu TC, Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery for retained hemothorax in blunt chest trauma. Current opinion in pulmonary medicine. 2015 Jul     [PubMed]
Galvagno SM Jr,Smith CE,Varon AJ,Hasenboehler EA,Sultan S,Shaefer G,To KB,Fox AD,Alley DE,Ditillo M,Joseph BA,Robinson BR,Haut ER, Pain management for blunt thoracic trauma: A joint practice management guideline from the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma and Trauma Anesthesiology Society. The journal of trauma and acute care surgery. 2016 Nov     [PubMed]
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Kasotakis G,Hasenboehler EA,Streib EW,Patel N,Patel MB,Alarcon L,Bosarge PL,Love J,Haut ER,Como JJ, Operative fixation of rib fractures after blunt trauma: A practice management guideline from the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma. The journal of trauma and acute care surgery. 2017 Mar     [PubMed]
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