Not so FAST-Chest ultrasound underdiagnoses traumatic pneumothorax

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2022 Jan 1;92(1):44-48. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000003429.


Background: Ultrasonography for trauma is a widely used tool in the initial evaluation of trauma patients with complete ultrasonography of trauma (CUST) demonstrating equivalence to computed tomography (CT) for detecting clinically significant abdominal hemorrhage. Initial reports demonstrated high sensitivity of CUST for the bedside diagnosis of pneumothorax. We hypothesized that the sensitivity of CUST would be greater than initial supine chest radiograph (CXR) for detecting pneumothorax.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of patients diagnosed with pneumothorax from 2018 through 2020 at a Level I trauma center was performed. Patients included had routine supine CXR and CUST performed prior to intervention as well as confirmatory CT imaging. All CUST were performed during the initial evaluation in the trauma bay by a registered sonographer. All imaging was evaluated by an attending radiologist. Subgroup analysis was performed after excluding occult pneumothorax. Immediate tube thoracostomy was defined as tube placement with confirmatory CXR within 8 hours of admission.

Results: There were 568 patients screened with a diagnosis of pneumothorax, identifying 362 patients with a confirmed pneumothorax in addition to CXR, CUST, and confirmatory CT imaging. The population was 83% male, had a mean age of 45 years, with 85% presenting due to blunt trauma. Sensitivity of CXR for detecting pneumothorax was 43%, while the sensitivity of CUST was 35%. After removal of occult pneumothorax (n = 171), CXR was 78% sensitive, while CUST was 65% sensitive (p < 0.01). In this subgroup, CUST had a false-negative rate of 36% (n = 62). Of those patients with a false-negative CUST, 50% (n = 31) underwent tube thoracostomy, with 85% requiring immediate placement.

Conclusion: Complete ultrasonography of trauma performed on initial trauma evaluation had lower sensitivity than CXR for identification of pneumothorax including clinically significant pneumothorax requiring tube thoracostomy. Using CUST as the primary imaging modality in the initial evaluation of chest trauma should be considered with caution.

Level of evidence: Diagnostic Test study, Level IV.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Positioning / methods
  • Pneumothorax* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pneumothorax* / etiology
  • Radiography, Thoracic / methods
  • Radiography, Thoracic / standards
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thoracic Injuries* / complications
  • Thoracic Injuries* / diagnosis
  • Thoracic Injuries* / epidemiology
  • Thoracostomy* / instrumentation
  • Thoracostomy* / methods
  • Thoracostomy* / statistics & numerical data
  • Time-to-Treatment
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed* / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed* / standards
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Ultrasonography* / methods
  • Ultrasonography* / standards
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / complications
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnosis
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / epidemiology