A prospective analysis of occult pneumothorax, delayed pneumothorax and delayed hemothorax after minor blunt thoracic trauma

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2004 May;25(5):859-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2004.01.044.


Objectives: A prospective analysis was conducted to define the incidence of occult pneumothorax (OPX), delayed pneumothorax (DPX) and delayed hemothorax (DHX) and to propose an algorithm for surveillance.

Methods: During the last 2 years 709 consecutive patients who did not fulfill the indications for intrahospital management were examined at our emergency department for blunt thoracic injury. All patients were subjected to expiration posteroanterior chest radiograph (eCXR) and were scheduled for reevaluation after 24, 48 h and at 7, 14 and 21 days.

Results: OPX was present in 28 patients (4%) detected only with eCXR on admission, 14 patients developed DPX (2%) at 24-48 h later, and 52 patients presented up to 14 days later with DHX (7.4%). Of all DHX 42 (80.7%) required chest tube drainage, eight thoracentesis (16%) and only two (4%) were subjected after 1 month to decortication. No related morbidity was recorded. All the patients with the DHX had at least one rib fractured. Only one death among the DHX patients was documented.

Conclusions: A safe algorithm is recommended: eCXR for every patient who suffered blunt thoracic injury with at least one rib fracture detected and is treated as an outpatient or in case his/her compliance with the reevaluation schedule will be suboptimal. Close follow-up is also suggested since these entities do exist, cannot be ignored and their treatment is early evacuation of the pleura cavity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hemothorax / diagnosis
  • Hemothorax / etiology*
  • Hemothorax / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumothorax / diagnosis
  • Pneumothorax / etiology*
  • Pneumothorax / therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thoracic Injuries / complications*
  • Time Factors
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / complications*