Chest trauma (or thoracic trauma) is a serious injury of the chest. Thoracic trauma is a common cause of significant disability and mortality, the leading cause of death from physical trauma after head and spinal cord injury. Blunt thoracic injuries are the primary or a contributing cause of about a quarter of all trauma-related deaths. The mortality rate is about 10%. Chest injuries were first described in detail in around 1600 BC in the ancient Egyptian Edwin Smith Papyrus.
Chest trauma can be classified as blunt or penetrating. Blunt and penetrating injuries have different pathophysiologies and clinical courses.
Specific types of chest trauma include:
- Injuries to the chest wall
- Pulmonary injury (injury to the lung) and injuries involving the pleural space
- Injury to the airways
- Cardiac injury
- Blood vessel injuries
- And injuries to other structures within the torso
Most blunt injuries are managed with relatively simple interventions like tracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation and chest tube insertion. Diagnosis of blunt injuries may be more difficult and require additional investigations such as CT scanning. Penetrating injuries often require surgery, and complex investigations are usually not needed to come to a diagnosis. Patients with penetrating trauma may deteriorate rapidly, but may also recover much faster than patients with blunt injury.