Management of Flail Chest Without Mechanical Ventilation
The pathophysiology of flail chest is usually described only on the basis of paradoxical respiration, ignoring underlying pulmonary contusion. Two groups of comparable patients were treated either with early tracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation (Group 1), or with fluid restriction, diuretics, methylpredinisolone, albumin, vigorous pulmonary toilet, and intercostal nerve blocks, ignoring the paradox and treating only the underlying lung (Group 2). When tracheostomy and mechanical ventilation were not used the mortality rate went from 21% to O(p = 0.01), the complication rate from 100% to 20% (p = 0.005), and the average hospitalization from 31.3 to 9.3 days (p = 0.005). We conclude that most patients with flail chest do not need internal pneumatic stabilization if the underlying lung is treated appropriately and that tracheostomy and prolonged mechanical ventilation with a volume respirator, as practiced in most respiratory care centers, is usually a triumph of technique over judgment.
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