Objective: To determine factors affecting prognosis for patients with penetrating wounds of the heart.
Methods: A retrospective review of 302 patients with penetrating heart wounds undergoing emergency thoracotomy (August of 1980 through June of 1997) in a Level I trauma center.
Results: There were 148 patients with gunshot wounds (GSW) and 154 patients with stab wounds with 23% and 58% survival rates, respectively. Of 43 patients having no signs of life at the scene, 5 patients (12%) achieved some cardiac activity and were brought to the operating room (OR), but none survived. Of 67 patients "arresting" in the ambulance, 23 got to the OR, but only 3 patients (4%) survived. Of 27 patients "arresting" in the emergency department (ED), 18 patients reached the OR, but only 5 patients (19%) survived. Of 15 patients having an ED thoracotomy because of rapid deterioration there, 4 patients (27%) survived. Thus, of the 152 patients with an ED thoracotomy, 93 patients had gunshot wounds and none survived; of the 59 with stab wounds, 12 (20%) survived (p < 0.001). Of 150 patients having an OR thoracotomy, 111 (74%) survived. Single-chamber injuries had a survival rate of 51% (112 of 219 patients), but multiple chamber and/or intrapericardial great vessel injuries had only a 13% survival rate (11 of 83 patients) (p < 0.001). Intrapericardial aortic injuries were uniformly fatal in 15 patients. In patients with stab wounds, pericardial tamponade was associated with a higher survival rate (66%; 56 of 84 patients) than in those without tamponade (47%; 33 of 70 patients).
Conclusion: The physiologic status of the patient at presentation, mechanism of injury, and presence of a tamponade were significant prognostic factors in this series of penetrating cardiac injuries. Multiple-chamber injuries, especially with great vessel involvement, were associated with a high mortality rate. ED thoracotomies for gunshot wounds of the heart were uniformly fatal.