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Aust N Z J Surg. 1985 Aug;55(4):383-6.

The significance of first and second rib fractures.


There are differing opinions in the literature regarding the significance of first rib fractures. The plan at Westmead Centre is to standardize the initial assessment of patients with such fractures. A 3 year retrospective study of 170 trauma victims who sustained fractured ribs, was undertaken. Of the 15 patients with first rib fracture, all were involved in motor vehicle accidents. Over two-thirds of these patients sustained major chest injuries. Multisystem trauma involving cranial, abdominal or skeletal injury was common. One patient died as a result of head injury. Similar results were observed in 13 patients with second rib fractures. Brachial plexus injuries were noted in two patients with first rib fracture. Despite follow-up of high-risk patients at an interval which varied from 1 to 2 1/2 years after the original injury, major subclavian artery injury was not detected in patients with first rib fracture. From this experience and a literature review, we suggest that the general nature of trauma is similar in patients with first rib fracture to that in patients with second rib fracture. Patients with first rib fracture should be closely examined for neurovascular compromise. Guidelines for the use of angiography are discussed. If there is no evidence of neurovascular injury at presentation, and there is no other thoracic injury, recovery should be uneventful.

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