CT detection of occult pneumothorax in multiple trauma patients

J Emerg Med. 1993 Mar-Apr;11(2):179-86. doi: 10.1016/0736-4679(93)90517-b.


Chest injuries are the cause of death in 25% of trauma fatalities, and a major contributing factor in an additional 50%. Pneumothorax, the second most common chest injury, may often be initially overlooked. Administration of anesthesia and mechanical ventilation may produce enlargement of a pneumothorax and clinical deterioration. We reviewed 90 trauma patients who had been admitted with a diagnosis of pneumothorax or who had developed pneumothoraces after hospital admission. In 35 cases (38.8%), initial supine chest x-ray study failed to detect a pneumothorax, and the diagnosis was made on CT scan of the chest or abdomen performed within 2 hours of admission. In 15 of these cases (42.8%), identification of the pneumothorax on CT scan resulted in alterations in management, including chest tube placement in 10 patients and intensified monitoring in 5 patients. Failure to identify pneumothoraces in trauma patients may lead to deterioration and significant complications in patients requiring anesthesia or mechanical ventilation. CT scan may facilitate identification in these cases.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / complications*
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Pneumothorax / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pneumothorax / epidemiology
  • Pneumothorax / etiology
  • Pneumothorax / therapy
  • Radiography, Abdominal
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracic Injuries / complications
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed