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Hernia. 2008 Feb;12(1):73-8. Epub 2007 Sep 22.

Blunt diaphragmatic rupture: four year's experience.

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Department of Surgery, Polokwane Hospital, Private Bag x9316, Polokwane 0700, South Africa.



Blunt diaphragmatic rupture (DR) is a rare condition usually masked by multiple associated injuries, which are the main cause of morbidity and mortality. The overall incidence of diaphragmatic injury is 0.8-5.8% in blunt trauma--2.5-5% in blunt abdominal trauma and 1.5% in blunt thoracic trauma. A correct diagnosis remains difficult and is usually made late.


Over four years 12 patients with blunt DR were treated in our hospital. Their charts and X-rays were analyzed. All the surgeons involved were interviewed. Diagnostic and treatment modalities were analyzed and discussed.


Acute diaphragmatic rupture (ADR) was diagnosed in nine patients within seven days. Three patients presented with bowel obstruction and post-traumatic diaphragmatic hernia was diagnosed intraoperatively. Nine patients had rupture of the left hemidiaphragm, two had rupture of the right hemidiaphragm, and one had bilateral DR. Diagnosis of DR was made in all patients in the ADR group before surgery. The correct diagnosis was made within 12 h by junior medical officers in 66.6% of cases. Two patients were diagnosed on a second chest X-ray in response to progressive respiratory distress. The diaphragmatic defect was repaired in all patients via laparotomy; only one patient required additional thoracotomy. Mortality was 25%.


Single or serial plain chest radiographs with a high index of suspicion are diagnostic in most cases of DR. Respiratory distress should be treated with intubation as intercostal drainage (ICD) may not improve the situation and is associated with a high risk of iatrogenic injuries. Surgical repair is mandatory and laparotomy should be the preferred approach in unstable patients. To avoid missed injury thorough inspection of both hemidiaphragms should be done routinely on every trauma patient undergoing laparotomy. It is widely recommended to use non-absorbable suturing for diaphragm repair but slowly absorbable material seems reliable also.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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