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The Diagnosis and Treatment of Non-Cardiac Thoracic Trauma
  1. Dr JV O’Connor, MD, Director of Thoracic and Vascular Trauma1 and
  2. J Adamski, Assistant Professor of Surgery2
  1. 1R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, Associate Professor of Surgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. 22 South Green Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201 USA jvomd{at}


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 evaluation and treatment of specific thoracic injuries will be discussed, as well as some general principles in treating thoracic trauma.

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