Esophageal perforation in adults: Aggressive, conservative treatment lowers morbidity and mortality

Stephen B. Vogel, W. Robert Rout, Tomas D. Martin, Patricia L. Abbitt, Alan S. Livingstone, Joseph LoCicero, Alexander S. Rosemurgy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate the outcome of aggressive conservative therapy in patients with esophageal perforation. Summary Background Data: The treatment of esophageal perforation remains controversial with a bias toward early primary repair, resection, and/or proximal diversion. This review evaluates an alternate approach with a bias toward aggressive drainage of fluid collections and frequent CT and gastographin UGI examinations to evaluate progress. Methods: From 1992 to 2004, 47 patients with esophageal perforation (10 proximal, 37 thoracic) were treated (18 patients early [<24 hours], 29 late). There were 31 male and 16 females (ages 18-90 years). The etiology was iatrogenic (25), spontaneous (14), trauma (3), dissecting thoracic aneurysm (3), and 1 each following a Stretta procedure and Blakemore tube placement. Results: Six of 10 cervical perforations underwent surgery (3 primary repair, 3 abscess drainage). Nine of 10 perforations healed at discharge. In 37 thoracic perforations, 2 underwent primary repair (1 iatrogenic, 1 spontaneous) and 4 underwent limited thoracotomy. Thirty-4 patients (4 cervical, 28 thoracic) underwent nonoperative treatment. Thirteen of the 14 patients with spontaneous perforation (thoracic) underwent initial nonoperative care. Overall mortality was 4.2% (2 of 47 patients). These deaths represent 2 of 37 thoracic perforations (5.4%). There were no deaths in the 34 patients treated nonoperatively. Esophageal healing occurred in 43 of 45 surviving patients (96%). Subsequent operations included colon interposition in 2, esophagectomy for malignancy in 3, and esophagectomy for benign stricture in 2. Conclusions: Aggressive treatment of sepsis and control of esophageal leaks leak lowers mortality and morbidity, allow esophageal healing, and avoid major surgery in most patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1016-1023
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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