Rib Fracture Diagnosis in the Panscan Era

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Abstract

Study objective

With increased use of chest computed tomography (CT) in trauma evaluation, traditional teachings in regard to rib fracture morbidity and mortality may no longer be accurate. We seek to determine rates of rib fracture observed on chest CT only; admission and mortality of patients with isolated rib fractures, rib fractures observed on CT only, and first or second rib fractures; and first or second rib fracture–associated great vessel injury.

Methods

We conducted a planned secondary analysis of 2 prospectively enrolled cohorts of the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study chest studies, which evaluated patients with blunt trauma who were older than 14 years and received chest imaging in the emergency department. We defined rib fractures and other thoracic injuries according to CT reports and followed patients through their hospital course to determine outcomes.

Results

Of 8,661 patients who had both chest radiograph and chest CT, 2,071 (23.9%) had rib fractures, and rib fractures were observed on chest CT only in 1,368 cases (66.1%). Rib fracture patients had higher admission rates (88.7% versus 45.8%; mean difference 42.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 41.4% to 44.4%) and mortality (5.6% versus 2.7%; mean difference 2.9%; 95% CI 1.8% to 4.0%) than patients without rib fracture. The mortality of patients with rib fracture observed on chest CT only was not statistically significantly different from that of patients with fractures also observed on chest radiograph (4.8% versus 5.7%; mean difference –0.9%; 95% CI –3.1% to 1.1%). Patients with first or second rib fractures had significantly higher mortality (7.4% versus 4.1%; mean difference 3.3%; 95% CI 0.2% to 7.1%) and prevalence of concomitant great vessel injury (2.8% versus 0.6%; mean difference 2.2%; 95% CI 0.6% to 4.9%) than patients with fractures of ribs 3 to 12, and the odds ratio of great vessel injury with first or second rib fracture was 4.4 (95% CI 1.8 to 10.4).

Conclusion

Under trauma imaging protocols that commonly incorporate chest CT, two thirds of rib fractures were observed on chest CT only. Patients with rib fractures had higher admission rates and mortality than those without rib fractures. First or second rib fractures were associated with significantly higher mortality and great vessel injury.

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