Subxiphoid pericardiotomy versus echocardiography: a prospective evaluation of the diagnosis of occult penetrating cardiac injury

Surgery. 1990 Oct;108(4):676-9; discussion 679-80.


Diagnostic subxiphoid pericardiotomy (SP) is presently advocated for the diagnosis of occult cardiac injuries in patients with stable vital signs with juxta-cardiac-penetrating chest wounds. This approach, however, results in a reported 80% negative pericardial exploration rate. To investigate the reliability of bedside two-dimension echocardiography (2-D echo) in predicting cardiac injury as compared to SP, a prospective study was undertaken of patients with stable vital signs who were admitted with penetrating chest wounds that were located within the space bounded by the manubrium, nipples, and subcostal line. Initial evaluation of the patients with bedside 2-D echo was found to have a 96% accuracy, 97% specificity, and 90% sensitivity in predicting cardiac injury. The only false-negative findings were in a patient who consented to SP 18 hours after bedside 2-D echo was performed. The reliability of bedside 2-D echo compared to SP was not significantly different according to the kappa measure of reliability. These data suggest that bedside 2-D echo is an expeditious and reliable method to diagnose occult cardiac injuries during the initial assessment of a patient with stable vital signs who had penetrating chest trauma. This approach may allow for the selective use of SP on patients with positive bedside 2-D echo and could eliminate unnecessary surgical procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Echocardiography*
  • Heart Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Pericardiectomy / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Wounds, Penetrating / diagnosis*
  • Xiphoid Bone