Chest trauma accounts for 25-50% of all trauma-related deaths in the world. Trauma to the chest can result in broken ribs, pulmonary injury, cardiac injury, and blood vessel damage. Stove-in chest is a complex type of flail chest injury. Flail chest describes damage to the chest due to significant blunt force trauma, such as in a car accident or act of violence. Stove-in chest is a rare type of trauma to the thorax that occurs most often in car accidents. Here are the facts about this serious injury.
Diagnosing Stove-In Chest
Victims of stove-in chest may visit the emergency department with severe chest pain and difficulty breathing, or dyspnea. Doctors may use tracheal intubation, mechanical ventilation, or chest tube insertion to enable breathing while assessing a chest injury. Diagnosing stove-in chest requires scans, x-rays, and radiographs. This type of chest injury occurs when a segment of the chest wall collapses.
Stove-in chest differs from typical flail chest in that the latter describes only blunt force trauma to the chest. Flail chest happens when part of the chest wall moves due to fractures of three or more ribs, posteriorly and anteriorly in each rib. There are several different types of flail chest injuries depending on the location of the fractures. Stove-in chest occurs when the wall of the chest collapses, due to three or more ribs breaking upon impact.
Flail chest and stove-in chest require significant force over a large area of the chest, such as the thorax, to cause multiple rib fractures at once. Striking the steering wheel in a car accident, for example, could cause flail chest or stove-in chest. In some cases, the force of impact of a seatbelt across the chest can cause impact injuries. These injuries are so dangerous because they can easily affect the heart and lungs, leading to pulmonary contusion, respiratory insufficiency, and death.
Prognosis and Treatments for Stove-In Chest Injuries
Stove-in chest has a high rate of immediate mortality, but there is a chance of recovery with proper medical treatment. If the patient does not die upon impact, doctors can confirm stove-in chest using x-rays.
The chest wall will show collapse due to abnormal motion in three or more ribs. Depending on the nature of the injury, doctors will choose the appropriate treatment method moving forward. Here are two examples:
- Vehicle accident – Blunt force trauma can break multiple adjacent ribs in several places, leading to a part of the chest wall moving independently. Patients with stove-in chest from car accidents typically require surgery to fix the fractures and physiotherapy reduce the risk of complications.
- Assault or act of violence – Gunshot wounds or stabbings can lead to penetration injuries, typically requiring surgery. Patients with penetrating chest trauma may deteriorate rapidly depending on the nature of the injury. However, they may also recover faster than patients with blunt chest injuries.
Doctors will also have to treat related injuries, such as those to the lung, airways, heart, blood vessels, and other structures within the torso. Complex flail chest and stove-in chest injuries require tailored medical treatment according to each individual patient. The risk of complications is too high for one type of treatment to work across the board. For example, in one fatal stove-in chest injury, failure to ventilate the patient early (the patient exhibited good gas exchange) may have contributed to the formation of the empyema, or pus buildup in the pleural space, that caused the patient’s death.
Stove-in chest is one of the most life-threatening injuries that can occur in an accident. If you or someone you loved suffered this type of injury, seek help from an experienced attorney. Someone may be liable to pay for your physical injuries, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.