First-line sonographic diagnosis of pneumothorax in major trauma: accuracy of e-FAST and comparison with multidetector computed tomography

Radiol Med. 2014 Sep;119(9):674-80. doi: 10.1007/s11547-014-0384-1. Epub 2014 Jan 28.


Purpose: Combined clinical examination and supine chest radiography have shown low accuracy in the assessment of pneumothorax in unstable patients with major chest trauma during the primary survey in the emergency room. The aim of our study was to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of extended-focused assessment with sonography in trauma (e-FAST), in the diagnosis of pneumothorax, compared with the results of multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) and of invasive interventions (thoracostomy tube placement).

Materials and methods: This was a retrospective case series involving 368 consecutive unstable adult patients (273 men and 95 women; average age, 25 years; range, 16-68 years) admitted to our hospital's emergency department between January 2011 and December 2012 for major trauma (Injury Severity Score ≥ 15). We evaluated the accuracy of thoracic ultrasound in the detection of pneumothorax compared with the results of MDCT and invasive interventions (thoracostomy tube placement). Institutional review board approval was obtained prior to commencement of this study.

Results: Among the 736 lung fields included in the study, 87 pneumothoraces were detected with thoracic CT scans (23.6%). e-FAST detected 67/87 and missed 20 pneumothoraces (17 mild, 3 moderate). The diagnostic performance of ultrasound was: sensitivity 77% (74% in 2011 and 80% in 2012), specificity 99.8%, positive predictive value 98.5%, negative predictive value 97%, accuracy 97.2% (67 true positive; 668 true negative; 1 false positive; 20 false negative); 17 missed mild pneumothoraces were not immediately life-threatening (thickness less than 5 mm).

Conclusions: Thoracic ultrasound (e-FAST) is a rapid and accurate first-line, bedside diagnostic modality for the diagnosis of pneumothorax in unstable patients with major chest trauma during the primary survey in the emergency room.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intubation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multidetector Computed Tomography*
  • Pneumothorax / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pneumothorax / etiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thoracic Injuries / complications*
  • Thoracostomy
  • Ultrasonography