Emergency Radiology

, 17:37 | Cite as

The dangling diaphragm sign: sensitivity and comparison with existing CT signs of blunt traumatic diaphragmatic rupture

  • Terry S. DesserEmail author
  • Byard Edwards
  • Stephen Hunt
  • Jarrett Rosenberg
  • Mary Anne Purtill
  • R. Brooke Jeffrey
Original Article


The objectives of our study were to describe a new CT sign of diaphragmatic injury, the “dangling diaphragm” sign, and assess its comparative utility relative to other signs in the diagnosis of diaphragmatic injury resulting from blunt trauma. CT scans of 16 blunt trauma patients (12 men and four women, mean age 36.6 years old) with surgically proven diaphragmatic injury and 32 blunt trauma patients (24 men and eight women; mean age 37.4 years old) without evidence of diaphragmatic injury at surgery were blindly reviewed by three board certified radiologists specializing in body imaging. Studies were evaluated for the presence of established signs of diaphragmatic injury, as well as the dangling diaphragm sign, in which the free edge of the torn hemidiaphragm curls inward from its normal course parallel to the body wall. The sensitivity and specificity of each sign were determined, as were the correlation between the signs and the interobserver agreement in evaluation of these findings. The radiologists’ overall impression as to whether rupture was present was also recorded. In select cases, coronal and/or sagittal reformatted images were available, and they were reviewed following evaluation of the original axial images. Any change in interpretation due to these images was noted. The sensitivity of the radiologists’ overall impression for detection of diaphragmatic injury was 77%, with 98% specificity. Individual signs of diaphragmatic injury had sensitivities ranging from 44% to 69%, with specificities of 98% to 100%. The dangling diaphragm sign had a sensitivity of 54% and a specificity of 98%, similar to the other signs. Multiple signs were present in most cases of diaphragmatic injury, and coronal and sagittal reformatted images had little impact. Diaphragmatic injury remains a challenging radiographic diagnosis. The dangling diaphragm is a conspicuous sign of diaphragmatic injury, and awareness of it may increase detection of diaphragmatic injury on CT studies.


Diaphragm Diaphragmatic rupture Trauma Blunt trauma 


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Copyright information

© Am Soc Emergency Radiol 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terry S. Desser
    • 1
    Email author
  • Byard Edwards
    • 1
  • Stephen Hunt
    • 1
  • Jarrett Rosenberg
    • 1
  • Mary Anne Purtill
    • 2
  • R. Brooke Jeffrey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of RadiologyStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of SurgeryStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA

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