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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1995 Dec;110(6):1676-80.

Management of flail chest injury: internal fixation versus endotracheal intubation and ventilation.

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Department of Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.


A total of 427 patients with major chest trauma were treated in two major hospitals in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, during a 10-year period. In 64 of 426 patients, flail chest injury was the dominant factor among other injuries that were insignificant. Among 64 cases of flail chest injury, 25 were managed by internal fixation of ribs, whereas the remaining 38 were managed by endotracheal intubation and intermittent positive-pressure ventilation alone. Of the patients treated by internal fixation 80% (21/26) were weaned from the ventilator within an average of 1.3 days, whereas the remaining 20% (5/26) continued to need assisted ventilation for a longer duration; the total average duration of assisted ventilation for the whole group was 3.9 days. In comparison, among 38 patients with flail chest injury treated by endotracheal intubation and ventilation alone, the average duration of assisted ventilation was 15 days. In the group treated by internal fixation 11% (3/26) of the patients ultimately required a tracheotomy, whereas in the patients treated by intubation and ventilation alone tracheostomy was required in 37% (14/38) of the cases. In the group treated by internal fixation, chest infection was documented in 15% (4/26), septicemia in 4% (1/26), and barotrauma in 0%; in the other group these complications occurred in 50% (19/38), 24% (9/38), and 8% (3/38) of the cases, respectively. The mortality rate was 8% (2/26) in the surgically treated patients, whereas it was 29% (11/38) in the other group. All the deaths in both groups were ascribed to adult respiratory distress syndrome. Average stay in the intensive care unit was 9 days for the patients treated by internal fixation, whereas it was 21 days in the group treated by intubation and ventilation alone. The treatment of flail chest injury in our series by internal fixation resulted in speedy recovery, decreased complications, and better ultimate cosmetic and functional results and proved to be cost effective.

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