Rapid deceleration can cause blunt force trauma injuries to the chest. These injuries can be serious and life threatening.
The human chest
The human chest comprises of ribs, sternum, clavicle, lungs, chest wall, heart, esophagus, diaphragm and major blood vessels. When a blunt force is applied to the body, it rarely causes damage to only one anatomical component. Often, other components are impacted as well.
Diagnosing blunt trauma chest injuries
There are various diagnostic techniques available to examine the car accident victim in order to determine the nature and severity of blunt force trauma chest injury. Physicians may use one or a combination of the following imaging tests to diagnose the injury:
Even if there are no other visible injuries, a medical evaluation is necessary to rule out any chest injuries. If an X-ray shows any signs of injury, a CT scan may be performed. If a driver has sustained blunt force trauma to the front of the chest and he or she has a history of heart disease or is elderly, an EKG may be performed. If the tests are clear and the patient shows no obvious symptoms, he or she may be sent home and should be informed about the possibility of delayed symptoms such as light-headedness, severe chest pain, or breathing problems.
A blunt force trauma to the chest can cause a cardiac contusion. This injury is a possibility in case of a high-speed collision or rollover accident and is characterized by the following symptoms:
- fracture of the sternum
- history of heart disease
- pain or tenderness over the mid-chest area
- myocardial infraction
Although quite uncommon, blunt force trauma to the chest can cause myocardial infraction. It can result from a blood clot in a coronary artery or dissection of a coronary artery. The most commonly affected artery is the left anterior descending artery.
Severe blunt force injury to the heart may cause immediate death. If the patient survives, he or she may experience low blood pressure that can lead to rupture, because any fluids given can increase blood pressure. Common signs of a serious heart injury include muffled heart sounds, distended veins in the neck, and low blood pressure.
If the rib is fractured as a result of a blunt force trauma to the chest, it can lead to pneumothorax. Symptoms include chest pain, low oxygenation, absent breath sounds, and shortness of breath. Not all cases of pneomothorax are evident on X-rays and silent pneumothorax can be seen only on a CT scan.
Bruising of the lungs may take up to 24 hours to manifest itself and usually goes away in a week’s time. However, appropriate treatment is necessary to prevent pneumonia and to control pain.
This is a rare condition that affects only about one percent of patients that suffer a blunt force trauma to the chest. Unfortunately, in most cases, it causes immediate death.
Blunt force trauma to the chest can cause aortic rupture, rupture of the heart, or bleeding into the chest space, a condition known as hemothorax. Injury is often hard to diagnose and may not show on an X-ray. It can be seen on ultrasound.
Treatment For Chest Injury from Car Accident
Treatment of these injuries depends upon the nature and severity of the injuries. A severe blunt force trauma to the chest can break the bones of the chest. Broken ribs can cause extreme pain and can make breathing difficult. Trauma can also cause bruising of the lungs, which can make breathing difficult and painful. Car accident victims who sustain blunt trauma to the chest can also suffer a broken sternum, which can cause severe secondary problems if it damages the heart or surrounding vessels.
There are other injuries as well that car accident victims can sustain. A pneumothorax or a collapsed lung happens when air escapes from the lungs and enters the chest cavity. It then applies pressure to the lung causing difficulty breathing. A collapsed lung is common after suffering a blunt force trauma to the chest. To treat it, doctors typically insert a tube into the lung to re-inflate the collapsed lung.
Blunt trauma to the chest can also sheer or rupture blood vessels in the chest. This can cause blood to collect in the chest cavity or lungs, a condition known as hemothorax. This can severely affect breathing. In order to restore breathing, the doctors have to eliminate the pooled blood.