What is a Chest Trauma?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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A person is diagnosed with thoracic trauma when he or she sustains a severe chest injury. Also known as chest trauma, this condition often results in critical impairments or disability. Death can also occur following chest trauma; it is the third leading cause of death from physical trauma.

Chest trauma can occur following one or several of a wide variety of injuries. Car accidents are the most common cause of thoracic injuries. Wounds sustained, either by accident or malice, can cause thoracic trauma. These may include gunshot wounds, being kicked or beaten, or being hit or stabbed with an object. Falls, abuse, fractures, and other conditions can all cause thoracic trauma.

Many other individual causes for this type of trauma exist. A flail chest, which occurs when the ribs break, can be a fatal form of chest trauma. Injuries to the shoulder girdle, heart, blood vessels, diaphragm, esophagus, and any surrounding body structures may also induce trauma. A diagnosis can be made by a physician, usually with an x-ray.


Two different types of chest trauma exist. Penetrating trauma occurs when the victim suffers an injury that breaks the skin, such as a knife in the chest or a gunshot wound. Victims with blunt trauma may have some torn skin, but the tear isn't the cause of the trauma itself, and the damage is often less localized. Being kicked by a large animal or experiencing a car accident may cause blunt trauma. Blunt trauma accounts for 25 percent of all deaths due to trauma medical emergencies.

Several symptoms of thoracic trauma exist. Severe pain is the most common symptom; difficulty breathing is another. Hemorrhaging, shock, shortness of breath, bleeding, bruising, and unconsciousness can all occur, depending on the cause. Broken or fractured bones often occur due to a chest injury. Physicians typically wait to set these injuries until some point after the victim has been stabilized.

Thoracic trauma is treated depending on its individual cause. A pulmonary toilet procedure, used to clear the airways, may be used in cases of a collapsed lung or to simply stop the trauma from causing further damage, such as an infection. Intubation, ventilation, or other oxygenating methods, surgery, wound setting, medication administration, or bed rest may be necessary. Physical therapy may also be required.

Since chest pain is often very strong, local anesthetics are often needed to help keep the patient comfortable. Analgesics may be given through an epidural. Chronic or incurable patients may be provided with a self-controlled infusion to use on demand in order to manage pain.


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