The Epidemiology of Traumatic Hemothorax in a Level I Trauma Center: Case for Early Video-assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery

  • Jana B. MacLeodEmail author
  • Jeffrey S. Ustin
  • Joseph T. Kim
  • Fran Lewis
  • Grace S. Rozycki
  • David V. Feliciano
Original Article



Hemothorax is a common sequela of chest trauma. Complications after chest trauma include retained hemothorax and empyema requiring multiple interventions. We studied the epidemiology of hemothorax and its complications at a level I trauma center.


The trauma registry was reviewed from Jan 1995 toMay 2005.Allpatients ≥16 years of agewhowere admitted with hemothorax, an AIS chest score of ≥ 3, and did not receive an immediate thoracotomy were entered in the study cohort. The patient demographics, details of the injury event, treatments, hospital length of stay (LOS), complications and outcome were analyzed.


The study cohort of 522 patients with a hemothorax were treated with 685 chest thoracostomy tubes. Overall, the median ISS was 18 and 62% were penetrating injuries. 109 patients (21%) had a retained hemothorax and required placement of ≥ 2 chest tubes with a median LOS of 15 days longer than patients with no retained hemothorax (p < 0.0001). The overall complication rate was 5% (26/522). Of these, 20 patients had empyema (3.8%), 8 patients required decortication, and 6 patients received streptokinase treatment.


More than 1 out of every 5 patients undergoing intervention for trauma-induced hemothorax develops a complication. The development of retained hemothorax is associated with empyema in 15.6% of cases and a 2-week median increase in length of stay. Future research into interventions such as Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) on the day of admission to completely evacuate hemothorax is warranted to reduce complication rates, length of stay and cost.

Key Words

Thoracic trauma Epidemiology Patient outcomes Chest trauma 


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Copyright information

© Urban & Vogel München 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jana B. MacLeod
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Jeffrey S. Ustin
    • 2
  • Joseph T. Kim
    • 3
  • Fran Lewis
    • 4
  • Grace S. Rozycki
    • 1
  • David V. Feliciano
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Trauma and Critical CareDepartment of Surgery, Emory University School of MedicineAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Division of Trauma, Emergency Surgery and Surgical Critical CareDepartment of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, MassachusettsGeneral HospitalBostonUSA
  3. 3.Indiana UniversitySchool of MedicineIndianapolisUSA
  4. 4.Grady Health SystemGrady Memorial HospitalAltantaUSA
  5. 5.Division of Trauma and Critical CareDepartment of Surgery, Emory University School of MedicineAtlantaUSA

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