Background: Spontaneous pneumomediastinum is a rare entity that usually occurs in young males without any apparent precipitating factor. Several case series have been published focusing on clinical features, workup and prognosis. Due to the rarity of this entity, there is no consensus on the most appropriate treatment.
Objectives: To describe the clinical characteristics and course of patients with spontaneous pneumomediastinum in our institution.
Methods: This retrospective descriptive study was based on a review of the charts of all patients discharged from our hospital with a diagnosis of SPM during the period 2000 to 2007. Thirteen patients were identified and information on their clinical presentation, course, hospital stay, investigations and outcome was gathered.
Results: In 70% of patients the presenting complaint of SPM was pleuritic chest pain, while 30% of patients developed SPM in the course of another respiratory illness. Subcutaneous emphysema was the most common clinical finding (46%). Chest X-ray was diagnostic in 12 of 13 patients, and additional tests such as esophagogram and echocardiogram were unrevealing. Leukocytosis and electrocardiographic changes in inferior leads were seen in 30% of patients. Mean hospital stay was 48 hours, treatment was supportive, and symptomatic improvement was usually noted within 24 hours. No recurrences occurred.
Conclusions: SPM is a rare entity that should be considered in patients with pleuritic chest pain. Treatment is supportive, and if no clues for esophageal rupture are present, investigations other than chest X-ray are probably not warranted. It is safe to discharge the patient within 24 hours provided that symptomatic improvement is achieved.