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Prospective evaluation of thoracic ultrasound in the detection of pneumothorax.

Journal of Trauma 2001 Februrary
BACKGROUND: Thoracic ultrasound may rapidly diagnose pneumothorax when radiographs are unobtainable; the accuracy is not known.

METHODS: We prospectively evaluated thoracic ultrasound detection of pneumothorax in patients at high suspicion of pneumothorax. The presence of "lung sliding" or "comet tail" artifacts were determined in patients by ultrasound before radiologic verification of pneumothorax by residents instructed in thoracic ultrasound. Results were compared with standard radiography.

RESULTS: There were 382 patients enrolled; the cause of injury was blunt (281 of 382), gunshot wound (22 of 382), stab wound (61 of 382), and spontaneous (18 of 382). Pneumothorax was demonstrated on chest radiograph in 39 patients and confirmed by ultrasound in 37 of 39 patients (95% sensitivity); two pneumothoraces could not be diagnosed because of subcutaneous air; the true-negative rate was 100%.

CONCLUSION: Thoracic ultrasound reliably diagnoses pneumothorax. Expansion of the focused abdominal sonography for trauma (FAST) examination to include the thorax should be investigated for terrestrial and space medical applications.

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