Rib fracture diagnosis in the panscan era


Clinical question: Do rib fractures observed on chest CT carry the same morbidity and mortality risk as those observed in chest radiograph?

Background: Traditionally studies have shown that first and second rib fractures on chest radiograph after blunt trauma are associated with substantial morbidity and mortality. With growing frequency of CT imaging in the “panscan” era, it is unknown whether similar rib fractures found on CT carry the same meaning.

Study design: Secondary analysis of two prospective observational studies.

Setting: 10 level I trauma centers.

Synopsis: Data from the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study showed that, of the 8,661 patients who suffered blunt trauma and received both chest radiograph and chest CT, 23.9% had rib fractures. Rib fractures were observed in 66.1% of chest CT–only cases. Patients with rib fractures had a higher admission rate (88.7% versus 45.8%) and higher mortality (5.6% versus 2.7%) than patients without rib fractures. Mortality rate and great-vessel injury were higher in those with first or second rib fractures. The mortality of patients with rib fractures observed only on chest CT was not statistically different from those whose fractures were also seen in chest radiograph. The study included patients who were more severely injured and may have been more likely to receive a CT, which may have led to an overestimation of fractures found. The actual causes of admission and death were not reviewed.

Bottom line: CT in trauma-imaging protocol can identify patients with rib fractures well, compared with combined CT with chest radiograph. Rib fractures are associated with higher rates of admission and mortality risk than those without rib fractures. Specifically, first or second rib fractures are found to have greater risk for mortality and great-vessel injury.

Citation: Murphy CE 4th, Raja AS, Baumann BM, et al. Rib fracture diagnosis in the panscan era. Ann Emerg Med. 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2017.04.011.

Dr. Xu is assistant professor and hospitalist, Icahn School of Medicine of the Mount Sinai Health System, New York.

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