The Natural History of Stab Wounds of the Diaphragm: Implications for a New Management Scheme for Patients with Penetrating Thoracoabdominal Trauma

Shatney, Clayton H.; Sensaki, Koji; Morgan, Lori
June 2003
American Surgeon;Jun2003, Vol. 69 Issue 6, p508
Academic Journal
For most patients with abdominal stab wounds expectant management has become the norm. Thoracoabdominal stab wounds, however, raise concern about possible diaphragmatic injury, and diagnostic minilaparotomy, laparoscopy, or thoracoscopy have been advocated in such patients. The present study examined the natural course of an untreated diaphragmatic stab wound. With Institutional Review Board approval eight 25- to 30-kg anesthetized pigs underwent a small upper-midline laparotomy. A 1.5- to 2-cm incision was made in each diaphragm--in the muscular portion on one side and in the tendinous area on the other side. Thereafter a 12-F catheter was placed into each thoracic cavity and attached to suction to resolve pneumothoraces. The laparotomy incision was closed, and the thoracic catheters were removed. Six weeks later the animals were reanesthetized, and the diaphragmatic stab wounds were examined at laparotomy. Fifteen of the 16 (93.8 per cent) diaphragmatic wounds were completely healed. All eight stab wounds in the muscular portion of either diaphragm healed spontaneously. In one animal there was a persistent defect in the tendinous portion of the left diaphragm at the site of the stab wound. The tip of the left lateral segment of the liver and the superior pole of the spleen were found in the defect at laparotomy. We conclude that the vast majority of stab wounds to either the muscular or tendinous diaphragm heal spontaneously. Thus invasive procedures to assess the status of the diaphragm in all patients with thoracoabdominal stab wounds is unwarranted.


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