Objective: Recent experience with traumatic diaphragmatic hernias at the Massachusetts General Hospital was reviewed to identify pitfalls in the diagnosis and treatment of this injury.
Summary background data: Traumatic diaphragmatic disruption is a common injury and a marker of severe trauma. It occurs in 5% of hospitalized automobile accident victims and 10% of victims of penetrating chest trauma. Numerous reports describe splenic rupture in 25% of patients with blunt diaphragmatic rupture, liver lacerations in 25%, pelvic fracture in 40%, and thoracic aortic tears in 5%. Diaphragmatic rupture is a predictor of serious associated injuries which, unfortunately, is itself often occult.
Methods: A chart review of all patients admitted to the Trauma Service with traumatic diaphragmatic hernias was undertaken for the period of January 1982 to June 1992.
Results: Data on 68 patients sustaining blunt (n = 25) and penetrating (n = 43) diaphragmatic rupture or laceration were presented. The diagnosis was made preoperatively in only 21 (31%). Associated injuries were frequent in those injured by either blunt or penetrating trauma. Sixty-six patients underwent repair, 54 (82%) through a laparotomy alone and 12 (18%) with the addition of a thoracotomy. There were five (7.4%) deaths that were caused by coagulopathy, hemorrhagic shock, multisystem organ failure, and pulmonary embolism. Complications were twice as frequent in the blunt-trauma group and included abscess, pneumonia, and the sequelae of closed head injuries.
Conclusions: The recognition of diaphragmatic rupture is important because of the frequency and severity of associated injuries. The difficulties in reaching the diagnosis require an aggressive search in patients at risk.