Imaging of Combat-Related Thoracic Trauma - Review of Penetrating Trauma

John P. Lichtenberger, Andrew M. Kim, Dane Fisher, Peter S. Tatum, Brian Neubauer, P. Gabriel Peterson, Brett W. Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Introduction: Combat-related thoracic trauma is a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality of the casualties from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Penetrating, blunt, and blast injuries were the most common mechanisms of trauma. Imaging plays a key role in the management of combat-related thoracic trauma casualties. This review discusses the imaging manifestations of thoracic injuries from penetrating trauma, emphasizing epidemiology and diagnostic clues seen during OEF and OIF. Materials and Methods: The assessment of radiologic findings in patients who suffer from combat-related thoracic trauma is the basis of this review article. The imaging modalities for this study include multi-detector computed tomography and chest radiography. Results: High-velocity penetrating projectile injuries appear as hemorrhage and re-expansion pulmonary edema from the temporary cavity and a linear, blood-filled track from the permanent cavity. In cases where the projectile passes totally through the body, entrance wounds at the skin surface and tracks through the subcutaneous tissues may be the only indications of penetrating trauma. When assessing vascular injury, special attention should be paid to the right hilum in contrast-enhanced multi-detector computed tomography, as contrast is concentrated in the superior vena cava and superior cavoatrial junction may obscure small fragments. Additionally, CT angiography may show vessel disruption or extravasation of contrast distal to normal vessel location in addition to intraluminal filling defects and pseudo-aneurysms. Tension pneumopericardium may rarely complicate penetrating or blunt chest trauma. On imaging, distension of the pericardial sack by pneumopericardium and compression of the heart support the diagnosis of tension. On multi-detector computed tomography in the acute trauma setting, fluid in the pleural space should be considered hemothorax, particularly when Hounsfield units are above 35. Acutely, extravasated blood will have similar attenuation to the thoracic vasculature, whereas clotted blood will have higher values of 50-90 Hounsfield units. Conclusion: Combat-related thoracic trauma continues to be a significant contributor to the morbidity and mortality of those injured during OEF and OIF. This review of the imaging manifestations of penetrating thoracic injury during OEF and OIF focuses on key diagnostic findings for clinicians caring for combat casualties. The distinct injury pattern and atypical imaging manifestations of penetrating trauma are important to recognize early due to the acuity of this patient population and the influence of accurate diagnosis on clinical management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E81-E88
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Combat
  • Imaging
  • Penetrating
  • Thoracic
  • Trauma


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