Personal management of 57 consecutive patients with esophageal perforation

Narendar Mohan Gupta, Lileswar Kaman
American Journal of Surgery 2004, 187 (1): 58-63

BACKGROUND: Esophageal perforation is a surgical emergency associated with high morbidity and mortality. There is no consensus regarding the appropriate management of this life-threatening condition.

METHODS: A retrospective review was made of 57 patients with esophageal perforations treated at the Department of Surgery, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India, between September 1986 and December 2001.

RESULTS: Forty-four (77%) perforations were due to iatrogenic causes, spontaneous perforations occurred in 6 patients (11%). Foreign body ingestion caused perforation in 4 (7%), followed by blunt trauma in 2 (4%) and caustic injury in 1 patient. A total of 6 (11%) patients had cervical injury, 49 (86%) patients had thoracic, and 1 patient had abdominal esophageal injury. Thirty-three (58%) patients underwent emergency esophagectomy, 4 (7%) patients underwent primary repair, and 4 patients (7%) underwent drainage alone, whereas 16 (28%) patients were managed by nonoperative treatment. Using these treatment principles, we achieved 86% survival rate for all patients. Eight (14%) patients died. Spontaneous perforation had the highest mortality (67%).

CONCLUSIONS: Esophageal perforation needs aggressive treatment. The treatment depends mainly on two factors: perforation in a healthy esophagus, and perforation with a preexisting underlying intrinsic esophageal disease causing distal obstruction. Esophageal perforation associated with stenotic lesions (benign or malignant) needs esophageal extirpation. Perforation in a healthy esophagus should be treated by primary closure if encountered early. Nonoperative conservative treatment is appropriate when esophageal perforation is encountered late.

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