Resuscitative Thoracotomy: An Update

Scand J Surg. 2014 Jun;103(2):112-119. doi: 10.1177/1457496913514735. Epub 2014 Apr 15.


Background: Resuscitative thoracotomy is a heroic procedure that may offer the only survival hope for trauma patients in extremis. However, this operation has been the subject of much debate and its use, feasibility, outcomes, and cost are being continuously re-evaluated.

Methods: This is a review of the most current (after 2000) literature on resuscitative thoracotomy, based on computer database searches for studies on resuscitative thoracotomy, emergency department thoracotomy, and emergency thoracotomy. Studies were selected for inclusion in this review based on their relevance and contribution to our understanding of resuscitative thoracotomy.

Results: A total of 37 studies were included, and the following resuscitative thoracotomy-related topics were critically discussed: indications, biochemical profile, long-term outcome, organ donation, pre-hospital use, military use, international aspects, intra-aortic balloon occlusion, suspended animation, and cost and occupational exposure.

Conclusions: This review demonstrates that the indications for resuscitative thoracotomy become clearer and that new information is available regarding its use in the pre-hospital urban environment and military settings. Furthermore, it points to new strategies to supplement resuscitative thoracotomy including intra-aortic balloon occlusion and suspended animation. Finally, it sheds light on the long-term outcomes, organ donation, and cost and occupational exposure following resuscitative thoracotomy.

Keywords: CPR; Resuscitative thoracotomy; asystole; emergency department thoracotomy; intra-aortic balloon occlusion; suspended animation.

Publication types

  • Review