Thoracic injury in patients injured by explosions on the battlefield and in terrorist incidents

Andrew McDonald Johnston, Joseph Edward Alderman
Chest 2019 October 9
Thoracic injury is common on the battlefield and in terrorist attacks, occurring in 10-70% of patients depending on the type of weapons used. Typical injuries seen include bullet, blast and fragment injuries to the thorax which are often associated with injuries to other parts of the body. Initial management pre-hospital and in the emergency department is carried out according to the principles of Tactical Combat Casualty Care or other standard trauma management systems. Immediately life threatening problems including catastrophic hemorrhage are dealt with rapidly and early consideration given to computed tomographic scanning or rapid surgical intervention where appropriate. All patients should be managed with lung protective ventilation. Management of these patients in the critical care unit is complicated by the severity of associated injuries and by features specific to combat trauma including blast lung injury, a high incidence of delirium, unusual infections such as colonization with multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii complex and sometimes invasive fungal infections. A minority of blast lung patients in published series have been successfully treated with prolonged respiratory support with High Frequency Oscillatory Ventilation and Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation. The role of newer treatment options such as resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta is not yet known. In this article we review the relatively sparse literature on this group of patients and provide practical advice based on the literature and our institution's extensive experience of managing battlefield casualties.


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