Background: Perforation of the esophagus is a deadly injury that requires expert management for survival.
Methods: We performed a retrospective clinical review of 66 patients treated at Emory University affiliated hospitals for esophageal perforation between 1973 and 1993.
Results: Iatrogenic perforations accounted for 48 injuries (73%), barogenic perforations occurred in 12 patients (17%), trauma was causative in 3 (5%), and 3 patients had esophageal infection and other causes. Lower-third injuries occurred in 43 cases (65%), middle third in 14 (21%), and upper third in 9 (14%). Early contained perforations were managed successfully by limiting oral intake and giving parenteral antibiotics in 12 patients. Cervical perforations were drained without attempt at closure of the leak. Perforations with mediastinal or pleural contamination recognized early were managed by primary closure and drainage in 28 patients. Reinforcement of the primary closure using stomach fundus, pleural, diaphragmatic, or pericardial flap was performed in 16 patients. Those perforations that escaped early recognition required thoughtful management, using generous debridement and drainage and sometimes esophageal resection. The esophageal T tube provided control of leaks in 3 of these patients and was a useful adjunct. Using these management principles, we achieved a 76% survival rate for all patients. Six patients with perforations complicating endoesophageal management of esophageal varices were a high-risk subset with an 83% mortality rate.
Conclusions: Esophageal perforation remains an important thoracic emergency. Aggressive operative therapy remains the mainstay for treatment; however, conservative management may be preferred for contained perforations and the esophageal T tube may be used for late perforations.