Question Of The Day #66

question of the day
40.1 - Pneumothorax 1

Which of the following is the most likely diagnosis of this patient’s condition?

This man presents to the Emergency Department with pleuritic chest pain, shortness of breath after a penetrating chest injury. He has tachypnea and low oxygen saturation on exam, but he is not hypotensive or tachycardic.  The first step in evaluating any trauma patient involves the primary survey.  The primary survey is also known as the “ABCDEFs” of trauma.  This stands for Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, Exposure, and FAST exam (Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma).  Each letter should be assessed in alphabetical order to avoid missing a time sensitive life-threatening condition.  The primary survey should be conducted prior to taking a full history.  After the primary survey, a more detailed physical exam (secondary survey) is conducted, followed by interventions and a focused patient history. 

This patient should immediately be given supplemental oxygen for his low oxygen saturation.  The history of penetrating chest trauma and hypoxemia also should raise concern for a traumatic pneumothorax, and oxygen supplementation is part of the treatment for all pneumothoraces.  The patient’s chest X-ray shows a large left sided pneumothorax indicated by the absence of left sided lung markings.  There is some left to right deviation of the heart and the primary bronchi.  There is no large left sided pleural effusion in the costodiaphragmatic recess to indicate a pneumo-hemothorax.  There is also no deviation of the trachea, hypotension, or tachycardia to indicate a tension pneumothorax (Choice B).  The patient is hemodynamically stable, so he cannot be in hemorrhagic shock (Choice A) or have cardiac tamponade (Choice C).  Although the pneumothorax is large with mild deviation of the heart, the lack of hemodynamic instability supports the diagnosis of a traumatic non-tension pneumothorax (Choice D).  The treatment for this would include 100% oxygen supplementation and placement of a chest tube.  A CT scan of the chest is more sensitive imaging test than a chest X-ray and should be considered to evaluate for additional injuries (blood vessel injuries, rib fractures, etc.). Correct Answer: D


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #66," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, December 3, 2021,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

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