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J Emerg Med. 2018 Sep;55(3):366-371. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2018.05.027. Epub 2018 Jun 28.

Emergency Medical Services Simple Thoracostomy for Traumatic Cardiac Arrest: Postimplementation Experience in a Ground-based Suburban/Rural Emergency Medical Services Agency.

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Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor University, Houston, Texas.
Houston Fire Department, Houston, Texas.
Montgomery County Hospital District Emergency Medical Services, Houston, Texas.



Tube thoracostomy has long been the standard of care for treatment of tension pneumothorax in the hospital setting yet is uncommon in prehospital care apart from helicopter emergency medical services.


We aimed to evaluate the performance of simple thoracostomy (ST) for patients with traumatic cardiac arrest and suspected tension pneumothorax.


We conducted a retrospective case series of consecutive patients with traumatic cardiac arrest where simple thoracostomy was used during the resuscitation effort. Data were abstracted from our Zoll emergency medical record (Zoll Medical Corp., Chelmsford, MA) for patients who received the procedure between June 1, 2013 and July 1, 2017. We collected general descriptive characteristics, procedural success, presence of air or blood, and outcomes for each patient.


During the study period we performed ST on 57 patients. The mean age was 41 years old (range 15-81 years old) and 83% were male. Indications included 40 of 57 (70%) blunt trauma and 17 of 57 (30%) penetrating trauma. The presenting rhythm was pulseless electrical activity 65%, asystole 26%, ventricular tachycardia/fibrillation 4%, and nonrecorded 5%. Eighteen of 57 (32%) had air return, 14 of 57 (25%) return of spontaneous circulation, with 6 of 57 (11%) surviving to 24 h and 4 of 57 (7%) discharged from the hospital neurologically intact. Of the survivors, all were blunt trauma mechanism with initial rhythms of pulseless electrical activity. There were no reported medic injuries.


Our data show that properly trained paramedics in ground-based emergency medical services were able to safely and effectively perform ST in patients with traumatic cardiac arrest. We found a significant (32%) presence of pneumothorax in our sample, which supports previously reported high rates in this patient population.


EMS; finger thoracostomy; needle decompression; simple thoracostomy; tension pneumothorax

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