Rib fractures are commonly caused by trauma to the chest wall. Extremely painful, rib fractures can represent an isolated injury or be part of a larger multi-system injury. A rib may be fractured in one place, two places (flail), or be shattered.
Rib fractures are most commonly caused by blunt injuries to the chest caused by a car accident, fall or assault. Penetrating injuries such as gunshot wounds are a less frequent cause. When severe, rib fractures can lead to flail chest (open chest wound) and cause breathing issues, pulmonary contusion, bleeding and pneumothorax. When untreated, rib fractures will lead to serious short-term consequences such as severe pain when breathing, pneumonia and, rarely, death. Long-term consequences include chest wall deformity, chronic pain and decreased lung function.
The Lung Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital offers proven treatments for patients with fractured ribs. Our board-certified thoracic surgeons use rib plating, a pioneering technique for repairing broken ribs that dramatically reduces pain and recovery time. Although most broken ribs heal without surgery, a severely crushed chest with many broken ribs will likely benefit from this new operative technique.
There are several known causes of pneumothorax:
If you have these symptoms, you should seek immediate attention either at your doctor’s office or in an emergency room where you will likely have a thoracic surgery consultation.
There are clear warning signs of a collapsed lung:
If the leak in the lung is a large one, more severe symptoms can occur:
After taking your medical history and performing a careful physical examination, your Lung Center team may order the following tests to confirm a pneumothorax:
Depending on the severity of your pneumothorax, there are several treatment options:
When you become a patient of The Lung Center, you will meet many members of the team who specialize in pneumothorax. You will receive a thorough diagnostic evaluation and careful monitoring.
If you have had a pneumothorax in the past that was treated without surgery, it is recommended that you do not participate in sports that involve changes in barometric pressure (scuba diving, mountain climbing, sky diving). If you would like to participate in these sports, but have had a pneumothorax in the past, specialists at The Lung Center can assess your risk for participating in such sports.
Pneumothorax patients benefit from the wide range of specialists at the Lung Center, including pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, cardiovascular medicine physicians and thoracic imaging experts. This multidiscliplinary collaboration ensures comprehensive evaluation and treatment. If your medical team discovers an underlying illness or concern, you will be referred to a BWH physician for an expert evaluation.
Any surgery recommended will be performed by an experienced, board-certified thoracic surgeon, in collaboration with a pulmonologist and anesthesiologist, as well as nurses and physicians, all of whom are experts in taking care of patients with pneumothorax.
Go to our online health library to learn more about thoracic diseases and tests.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
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