Should pre-hospital resuscitative thoracotomy be reserved only for penetrating chest trauma?

  • Edward J. Nevins
  • Parisa L. Moori
  • Jonathan Smith-Williams
  • Nicholas T. E. Bird
  • John V. Taylor
  • Nikhil Misra
Review Article



The indications for pre-hospital resuscitative thoracotomy (PHRT) remain undefined. The aim of this paper is to explore the variation in practice for PHRT in the UK, and review the published literature.


MEDLINE and PUBMED search engines were used to identify all relevant articles and 22 UK Air Ambulance Services were sent an electronic questionnaire to assess their PHRT practice.


Four European publications report PHRT survival rates of 9.7, 18.3, 10.3 and 3.0% in 31, 71, 39 and 33 patients, respectively. All patients sustained penetrating chest injury. Six case reports also detail survivors of PHRT, again all had sustained penetrating thoracic injury. One Japanese paper presents 34 cases of PHRT following blunt trauma, of which 26.4% survived to the intensive therapy unit but none survived to discharge. A UK population reports a single survivor of PHRT following blunt trauma but the case details remain unpublished. Ten (45%) air ambulance services responded, each service reported different indications for PHRT. All perform PHRT for penetrating chest trauma, however, length of allowed pre-procedure down time varied, ranging from 10 to 20 min. Seventy percent perform PHRT for blunt traumatic cardiac arrest, a procedure which is likely to require aggressive concurrent circulatory support, despite this only 5/10 services carry pre-hospital blood products.


Current indications for PHRT vary amongst different geographical locations, across the UK, and worldwide. Survivors are likely to have sustained penetrating chest injury with short down time. There is only one published survivor of PHRT following blunt trauma, despite this, PHRT is still being performed in the UK for this indication.


Pre-hospital Resuscitative thoracotomy Traumatic cardiac arrest Penetrating chest trauma Blunt chest trauma 



The authors would like to acknowledge Clint Jones for survey design, help in distribution of survey and proof reading the manuscript. The authors would also like to acknowledge Sarah J. Fadden for proof reading the manuscript.


The authors received no funding for the production of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward J. Nevins
    • 1
  • Parisa L. Moori
    • 2
  • Jonathan Smith-Williams
    • 3
  • Nicholas T. E. Bird
    • 1
  • John V. Taylor
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nikhil Misra
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Emergency General Surgery and Trauma UnitUniversity Hospital AintreeLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.University of Liverpool Medical SchoolLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.Department of AnaesthesiaRoyal Liverpool University HospitalLiverpoolUK

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