The Etiology, Diagnosis, and Management of Esophageal Perforation

J Gastrointest Surg. 2022 Dec;26(12):2606-2615. doi: 10.1007/s11605-022-05454-2. Epub 2022 Sep 22.


Background: Esophageal perforation is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical emergency. Given multiple etiologies and varying clinical presentations of the perforated esophagus, the diagnosis is commonly delayed, complicating expeditious and optimal intervention.

Methods: We thoroughly reviewed the latest literature on the subject and herein describe the various treatment strategies in varying settings.

Results: Treatment depends on multiple factors including the cause and location of the perforation, the time interval between the inciting event and presentation to the managing clinician, the overall medical stability of the patient, comorbidities including pre-existent esophageal pathology or prior foregut operations, and both the location and extent of extra-esophageal fluid collections. Because of these various considerations, determining the best diagnostic and therapeutic approach requires considerable clinical experience and judgment on the part of the physician. Management principles include (1) adequate fluid resuscitation; (2) expeditious administration of appropriate broad-spectrum antibiotics; (3) repair, occlusion, exclusion, diversion, or exteriorization of the perforation site; (4) drainage of extraluminal fluid collections; (5) relief of distal obstruction; and (6) nutritional support.

Conclusions: For decades, operative intervention has been the mainstay of therapy for esophageal perforation. More recently, endoscopic therapies, including stenting, clipping, suturing, or endoscopic vacuum therapy, have been introduced, expanding the clinician's therapeutic armamentarium while supplanting surgical approaches in many cases. With further experience and introduction of novel therapies, the management of esophageal perforation undoubtedly will continue to evolve.

Keywords: Diversion; Endovac; Esophageal clip; Primary repair; Stent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drainage / adverse effects
  • Endoscopy
  • Esophageal Perforation* / diagnosis
  • Esophageal Perforation* / etiology
  • Esophageal Perforation* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Stents / adverse effects