Penetrating chest trauma predominantly occurs after gunshot or stab wounds and the extent of injury can range from mild and local tissue damage to life-threatening bleeding, hemo/pneumothorax, and respiratory failure. Dyspnea, hemoptysis, and shock are some of the most common symptoms. A properly conducted physical examination is sufficient to make the initial diagnosis that is further supported by imaging studies such as ultrasonography and computed tomography (CT).
Chest trauma is more commonly described in clinical practice after blunt force injuries (motor vehicle accidents, falls, sport-related contact, etc.), but in approximately 10% of cases, penetrating chest trauma may be encountered . Gunshot (mainly high-velocity) and stab wounds are the two main causes of such trauma, while impalement and other forms have been observed in some cases   . This type of injury is seen across all ages and males seem to be more frequently affected  . One of the worrisome aspects of penetrating chest trauma is the potential damage to the vascular structures (major blood vessels and the heart), which is why mortality rates are higher compared to blunt chest trauma   . Furthermore, skeletal fractures (of the ribs, and the sternum), direct lung injury (causing pneumothorax, hemothorax, contusion, or damage of the parenchyma), as well as diaphragmatic and esophageal injury can accompany penetrating chest trauma   . The clinical presentation may not always reflect the severity of trauma , and respiratory-related complaints are reported - dyspnea, hypoxemia, and hemoptysis . As both cardiac output and respiratory function might decline rapidly (particularly if the heart is damaged), hemorrhage and cardiorespiratory insufficiency can cause life-threatening shock   . Sepsis is a late, but very important complication .
Entire Body System
- Painful Cough
Patient complained of pain, cough, breathlessness and hemoptysis. After admission pulse rate was 126/min, blood pressure 106/62, respiratory rate was 42/min, room air SpO2 was 88%. [jusurgery.com]
The clinical picture may include painful swallowing; throat, neck, or chest pain; cough; hematemesis; dyspnea; and/or subcutaneous emphysema. [ahcmedia.com]
Symptoms and signs include tachypnea, hypotension, hypoxia, cyanosis, and air movement through the wound during respiration. [journals.lww.com]
The reduction in venous return will reduce the preload of the left ventricle, leading to a decrease in cardiac output and consequential poor perfusion and hypotension. [emsworld.com]
Prehospital hypertonic saline/dextran infusion for post-traumatic hypotension: the U.S.A. Multicenter Trial. Ann Surg. 1991 1991: 213; 482-491. Bickell WH, Wall MJ Jr, Pepe PE et al. [bestbets.org]
Tachycardia and hypotension will become profound, followed by decreased level of consciousness. [medictests.com]
Immediate versus delayed fluid resuscitation for hypotensive patients with penetrating torso injuries. N Engl J Med 1994; 331:1105-1109. 4. Gross D, Landau EH, Assalia A, Krausz MM. [books.google.it]
- Chest Pain
Two weeks later the patient returned to the hospital with pleuritic chest pain and shortness of breath. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
MVC, fall, airplane crash), complaints of chest pain, dyspnea, hoarseness (frequently absent) - Decreased femoral pulses, differential arm BP (arch tear) - CXR, CT scan, transesophageal echo (TEE), aortography (gold standard) - see below for CXR features [fprmed.com]
- Heart Block
The soldier had penetration of his right atrium and subsequent traumatic membranous ventricular septal defect and complete heart block. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- Continuous Murmur
He was treated conservatively, and presented six years later with exertional dyspnoea and a continuous murmur. Echocardiography detected an aorta-right ventricular fistula and an important aortic regurgitation. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
As early initiation of proper therapy could be life-saving, the importance of a prompt diagnostic workup is of critical importance. Physicians should be able to make the diagnosis after a detailed inspection of the chest, suggesting the pivotal role of a physical examination. The presence of bowel sounds in the thorax and abnormal breathing sounds are important abnormal findings . A thorough patient history must cover the mode of injury, when it occurred, and assess the course and progression of symptoms. Imaging studies, however, are necessary to determine the extent of injury and the status of the surrounding organs and tissues. Plain radiography is described as a good initial method to start the diagnostic workup , but thoracic ultrasonography, because of the ability to use it in the field and more easily in the emergency setting, has emerged as an equally effective, if not superior procedure for the evaluation of penetrating chest trauma  . Digital radiography seems to be highly useful for the assessment of skeletal injuries , but the introduction of computed tomography (CT) has greatly improved the overall quality of diagnostics . Multidetector CT (MDCT) is the gold-standard for identifying the exact status of the organs situated in the thorax and should be employed whenever possible  .
- Atrioventricular Dissociation
We report a case of fatal inferior wall myocardial infarction following traumatic injury to the right coronary artery, complicated by atrioventricular dissociation, in a patient with a combination of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and non-occlusive coronary [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
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