Current assessment and management of spontaneous pneumomediastinum: experience in 24 adult patients

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2004 May;25(5):852-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2004.01.042.


Objectives: Spontaneous pneumomediastinum (SPM) is an uncommon, benign, self-limited disorder that usually occurs in young adults without any apparent precipitating factor or disease. The purpose of this study was to review our experience in dealing with this entity and detail a reasonable course of assessment and management.

Methods: A retrospective case series was conducted to identify adult patients with SPM who were diagnosed and treated in a single institution between 1993 and 2000.

Results: Twenty-four patients were identified who included 18 men and 6 women with a mean age of 17.5 years. Acute onset chest pain was the predominant symptom at presentation. Only half of the patients developed clinically evident subcutaneous emphysema. The most frequent precipitating factor was a history of illegal drug abuse seen in 25% of patients. Other factors included asthmatic bronchospasm, physical activity and violent coughing or vomiting. Chest radiography and computerized tomography (CT) were diagnostic in all cases with CT scan revealing six cases with associated pulmonary abnormalities. Esophagogram and flexible bronchoscopy were selectively used. Twelve patients (50%) were admitted to the hospital. Their mean hospital stay was 2 days. All patients were conservatively treated. In a follow-up of 3-10 years no complications or recurrences were observed.

Conclusions: SPM follows alveolar rupture in the pulmonary interstitium. It shows a rising incidence in young drug users. It has a wide range of clinical features necessitating a high index of suspicion. Chest X-ray and CT scan should be always performed. Hospitalization and aggressive approach should be limited. SPM responds well to conservative treatment and follows a benign natural course.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mediastinal Emphysema / diagnosis*
  • Mediastinal Emphysema / etiology*
  • Mediastinal Emphysema / therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Subcutaneous Emphysema / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications