Does hemopericardium after chest trauma mandate sternotomy?

Chad M. Thorson, Nicholas Namias, Robert M. Van Haren, Gerardo A. Guarch, Enrique Ginzburg, Tomas A. Salerno, Carl I. Schulman, Alan S. Livingstone, Kenneth G. Proctor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Recently, three patients with hemopericardium after severe chest trauma were successfully managed nonoperatively at our institution. This prompted the question whether thesewere rare or common events. Therefore, we reviewed our experience with similar injuries to test the hypothesis that trauma-induced hemopericardium mandates sternotomy. METHOD: Records were retrospectively reviewed for all patients at a Level I trauma center (December 1996 to November 2011) who sustained chest trauma with pericardial window (PCW, n = 377) and/or median sternotomy (n = 110). RESULTS: Fifty-five (15%) patients with positive PCWproceeded to sternotomy. Penetrating injury was the dominant mechanism (n = 49, 89%). Nineteen (35%) were hypotensive on arrival or during initial resuscitation. Most received surgeon-performed focused cardiac ultrasound examinations (n = 43, 78%) with positive results (n = 25, 58%). Ventricular injuries were most common, with equivalent numbers occurring on the right (n = 16, 29%) and left (n = 15, 27%). Six (11%) with positive PCW had isolated pericardial lacerations, but 21 (38%) had no repairable cardiac or great vessel injury. Those with therapeutic versus nontherapeutic sternotomies were similar with respect to age, mechanisms of injury, injury severity scores, presenting laboratory values, resuscitation fluids, and vital signs. Multiple logistic regression revealed that penetrating trauma (odds ratio: 13.3) and hemodynamic instability (odds ratio: 7.8) were independent predictors of therapeutic sternotomy. CONCLUSION: Hemopericardium per se may be overly sensitive for diagnosing cardiac or great vessel injuries after chest trauma. Some stable blunt or penetrating trauma patients without continuing intrapericardial bleeding had nontherapeutic sternotomies, suggesting that this intervention could be avoided in selected cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1518-1525
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012


  • Cardiac injury
  • Pericardial window
  • Sonography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Surgery


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