Objective: A rib fracture secondary to blunt thoracic trauma is an important indicator of the severity of the trauma. In the present study we explored the morbidity and mortality rates and the management following rib fractures.
Methods: Between May 1999 and May 2001, 1417 cases who presented to our clinic for thoracic trauma were reviewed retrospectively. Five hundred and forty-eight (38.7%) of the cases had rib fracture. There were 331 males and 217 females, with an overall mean age of 43 years (range: 5-78 years). These patients were allocated into groups according to their ages, the number of fractured ribs and status, i.e. whether they were stable or unstable (flail chest).
Results: The etiology of the trauma included road traffic accidents in 330 cases, falls in 122, assault in 54, and industrial accidents in 42 cases. Pulmonary complications such as pneumothorax (37.2%), hemothorax (26.8%), hemo-pneumothorax (15.3%), pulmonary contusion (17.2%), flail chest (5.8%) and isolated subcutaneous emphysema (2.2%) were noted. 40.1% of the cases with rib fracture were treated in intensive care units. The mean duration of their stay in the intensive care unit was 11.8+/-6.2 days. 42.8% of the cases were treated in the wards whereby their mean duration of hospital stay was 4.5+/-3.4 days, while 17.1% of the cases were followed up in the outpatient clinic. Twenty-seven patients required surgery. Mortality rate was calculated as 5.7% (n=31).
Conclusions: Rib fractures can be interpreted as signs of significant trauma. The greater the number of fractured ribs, the higher the mortality and morbidity rates. Patients with isolated rib fractures should be hospitalized if the number of fractured ribs is three or more. We also advocate that elderly patients with six or more fractured ribs should be treated in intensive care units due to high morbidity and mortality.