Background: This study was a clinicoforensic analysis of the prevalence and outcome of traumatic cardiac injuries in Durban.
Methods: Between 1990 and 1992, 1198 patients sustained cardiac trauma. Seventy (6 per cent) reached hospital alive and 1128 (94 per cent) were taken directly to the mortuary. Seven hundred victims had suffered stab wounds, 494 gunshot wounds and four blast injuries. Gunshot injuries increased from 34 per cent in 1990 to 50 per cent in 1992. The mean (s.d.) age was 30.5 (5.4) years and the majority (91 per cent) were men.
Results: Thirty-five (50 per cent) of those who reached hospital alive died, including all four gunshot victims. Significant factors associated with survival were isolated injury, the presence of cardiac tamponade (univariate and multivariate analysis), right ventricular injury, single cardiac chamber injury and absence of pleural breach (univariate analysis alone). Delay in operative intervention was associated with a higher mortality rate. When analysing the patients who did not reach hospital alive, 202 (18 per cent) with tamponade due to an isolated stab wound were identified as a subset who might have been saved with prompt treatment.
Conclusion: An increasing number of gunshot injuries in combination with delays in reaching hospital and in receiving treatment accounted for the high mortality rate in this unselected series.