Emergency thoracotomy in the pre-hospital setting: a procedure requiring clarification

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2004 Aug;26(2):377-86. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2004.03.016.


Objective: The aim of this study is to investigate the influence of Emergency Thoracotomy (ET) on mortality in a group of patients suffering from severe thoracic trauma requiring Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) transfer to hospital. This is not clearly defined especially when thoracotomy takes place in the pre-hospital setting.

Methods: A retrospective review of 670 consecutive patients with severe thoracic trauma, transferred to The Royal London Hospital by HEMS between November 1994 and December 2002. ET (on scene, in the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department or in the operating theatre) was performed in 53 patients (7.7%). Both univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to evaluate ET as an independent predictor of mortality.

Results: There were 510 males and 160 females with a mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 35.12+/-17.5. Univariate analysis identified ET to be a predictor of mortality (OR=0.15, 95% CI=0.07-0.30). However, with multivariate analysis, ET was not found to be an independent predictor of mortality (OR=1.93, 95% CI=0.61-6.1). The independent predictors of mortality identified were: age>60 years (OR 5.57, 95% CI 2.19-14.16), Glasgow Coma Score <8 at the scene (OR=7.4, 95% CI=3.15-17.46), ISS>25 (OR 5.3, 95% CI=1.64-17.11), need for intubation at the scene (OR=2.80, 95% CI=1.022-7.69), oxygen saturation in A&E (<89%) (OR=2.39, 95% CI=1.13-5.05), haemothorax (OR=3.30, 95% CI=1.53-7.13) and bilateral injury (OR=3.1, 95% CI=1.51-6.61).

Conclusions: Our study has shown that when confounding variables are accounted for, ET is not a predictor of mortality following severe chest trauma. This implies that in a well-selected group of patients it may be a significant and life-saving procedure.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / mortality
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Thoracic Injuries / mortality
  • Thoracic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Thoracic Injuries / surgery*
  • Thoracotomy* / mortality