Diagnosis and recommended management of esophageal perforation and rupture

Ann Thorac Surg. 1986 Sep;42(3):235-9. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(10)62725-7.


Over the past 47 years (1937 to 1984), a total of 127 patients with esophageal perforation or rupture were evaluated at Duke Medical Center or the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center. In 13 patients, the diagnosis was established at the time of autopsy and in the remaining 114, the diagnosis was established clinically. The etiology, radiological findings, underlying esophageal disease, time interval between onset of symptoms and therapy, and eventual outcome were evaluated. Patients with anastomotic leaks and those in whom carcinoma resulted in perforation or fistula were excluded. Iatrogenic causes were responsible for 55% of perforations, followed by spontaneous rupture in 15%, foreign body perforation in 14%, and traumatic perforation in 10%. Of the 127 patients, 114 underwent treatment involving primary closure (43%), drainage alone (28%), resection (9%), or nonoperative therapy (20%). The overall mortality among these 114 patients was 21%. Fourteen patients sustained a major complication requiring additional operative intervention. The overall mortality among patients requiring reoperation was 57%. Survival was significantly influenced by a delay in treatment of greater than 24 hours. With the exception of nonoperative therapy, survival was improved for all forms of treatment instituted within 24 hours. Primary closure within 24 hours resulted in the most favorable outcome (92% survival). In addition to early treatment, other factors associated with a favorable outcome included traumatic perforation (100% survival), foreign-body perforations (94% survival), and iatrogenic causes (80% survival). Spontaneous rupture resulted in the lowest survival (37%). The incidence of esophageal perforation has increased dramatically since 1967.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Esophageal Perforation / diagnosis*
  • Esophageal Perforation / etiology
  • Esophageal Perforation / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors