Anesthetic management of thoracic trauma

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Purpose of review

Trauma remains a leading cause of death across all age groups. Thoracic injury is a contributing cause in approximately half of these. Despite being potentially life threatening, most thoracic trauma is managed nonoperatively or with an intercostal catheter. Only 10% of thoracic trauma patients will require emergency thoracotomy. Many more will undergo emergency or urgent surgical intervention for coexisting injuries. Thoracic injuries are dynamic. It is crucial for the anesthesiologist to continually reassess the patient, so that the manifestations of evolving injuries may be detected as early as possible and appropriate management decisions made. Up-to-date knowledge of injury patterns, mechanisms, pathophysiology, and operative and nonoperative management will facilitate optimal management of these patients.

Recent findings

There is recent literature discussing the surgical, anesthetic and critical care management of a range of thoracic injuries resulting from either blunt or penetrating trauma.


Initial resuscitation and surgical management of patients with thoracic trauma continue to evolve. Improvements in prehospital care and diagnostic techniques as well as development of minimally invasive interventions mean that the anesthesiologist may be required to provide care to unstable patients in an expanded range of scenarios and environments.

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