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Penetrating Cardiac Injury
  1. Dr J O’Connor, Associate Professor of Surgery1,
  2. M Ditillo2 and
  3. T Scalea, Physician in Chief3
  1. 1University School of Medicine, Director Thoracic And Vascular Trauma, R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, Baltimore, Maryland USA
  2. 2Trauma Critical Care Fellow, R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine Baltimore, Maryland USA
  3. 3R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, Francis X Kelly Professor of Trauma Surgery, Director, Program in Trauma, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland USA
  1. University of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA joconnor{at}


It is understood that penetrating cardiac trauma is a highly lethal injury and those surviving to hospital have an overall mortality approaching 80%. Reported mortality figures vary widely and are extremely dependent on mechanism of wounding, cardiac chambers involved and possibly the presence of cardiac tamponade. Despite significant advances in prehospital care, operative techniques, and intensive care management, the mortality has not changed over several decades. This article will review the anatomic regions of concern for a cardiac injury, clinical presentation, and physical findings. The need for an expeditious evaluation and modalities available including, plain radiographs, sub-xiphoid window, and echocardiography will be considered. Options for surgical exposure, technical details of repairing cardiac injuries, and special circumstances such as injury adjacent to a coronary artery and intra-cardiac shunts are discussed in detail. Outcome data and future directions in managing this challenging injury are also examined.

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