Surgical Science, 2013, 4, 438-442
http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ss.2013.410086 Published Online October 2013 (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ss)
Blunt Traumatic Pericardial Ruptur e
—Case Report and Literature Review
Hongbin Wang*, Min Li
Department of Cardiac-Thoracic Surgery, Fengxian District Central Hospital,
Affiliated Hospital of Southern Medical University, Shanghai, China
Received May 15, 2013; revised June 14, 2013; accepted June 22, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Hong Bin Wang, Min Li. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Li-
cense, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Pericardial rupture following blunt chest trauma is rare and associated with high mortality rate ranging from 30% to
64%. We review 42 cases which have been reported in the literature in last 17 years and report a case of our own. We
have found that 83% of the cases were men with a mean age of 49 years. The most frequent cause was traffic accidents
(79%). Preoperative diagnosis of traumatic rupture of the pericardium has been improved in recent 17 years, and the
result is satisfactory. Early detection, timely treatment is the key. Pneumopericardium may be a valuable radiographic
clue for diagnosis. The management of pericardial rupture is mainly to avoid the risk of cardiac strangulation or acute
tamponade. If the injury is recognized timely, treatment is simple and effective.
Keywords: Traumatic Rupture of the Pericardium; Diagnosis; Management
Pericardial rupture following blunt chest trauma is rare
and associated with high mortality rate ranging from
30%  to 64% . If pericardial rupture is not detected
and treated promptly, it may be fatal owing to cardiac
herniation. Timely diagnosis can avert disaster because
surgical management is relatively simple and effective.
In this report, we review the cases communicated in the
literature in the last 17 years and report a new case of our
own. Relevant articles were identified by searching elec-
tronic databases (e.g., Medline, EMBASE, CENTRAL,
mRCT and Pascal), as well as the correspondent refer-
ences from 1994 to September 2011.
2. Case Report
A 36-year-old man suffering from a direct blow to the
left precordial chest arrived at the emergency department.
In the initial examination, he was found tachypneic with
abnormal breathing pattern on his left chest. His systolic
blood pressure was 85 mmHg and heart rate was 110/min.
A chest CT scan revealed left haemopneumothorax, bi-
lateral pulmonary contusion and left multiple ribs frac-
tures. Electrocardiogram showed generalized T-wave
inversion with sinu s tachycardia. His troponin I was 0.1 7
ng/ml (normal value < 0.04 ng/ml).
The patient was then transferred to the intensive care
unit (ICU). A left-sided chest tube evacuated 800 ml
blood within two hours. His systolic blood pressure
dropped to 82 mmHg with heart rate up to 120/min. Then
an emergent operation was decided. The approach was
through a left anterolateral thoracotomy. At operation,
700 ml blood was sucked out, and a left pericardial rup-
ture was found at the left diaph ragmatic pericardium. The
tear was vertical, 5.5 cm long. A complete pericardiot-
omy was performed, the left ventricle was intact with
wine surface. There was no visible bleeding. Then the
fixation of the broken ribs was done. The patient was
back to ICU. His troponin I dropped to normal on the 9th
postoperative day (or POD#9). Echocardiography showed
pericardial effusion with left ventricular diastolic dys-
function two weeks later. The patient was found postop-
erative sinus tachycardia with heart rate of 120 - 130/min.
Metoprolol 25 mg was given two times a day, and the
heart rate dropped to 100/min. The patient was dis-
charged 2 weeks later. The follow-up Electrocardiogram
showed normal sinus rhythm two months later.
The most recent literature review about the traumatic
rupture of the pericardium was reported by Gallego in
*Corresponding a uthor.
opyright © 2013 SciRes. SS
H. B. WANG, M. LI 439
1996, with 40 cases collected between 1983-1993 .
Since 1994, we hav e found documents for 42 new cases,
[4-37] most of which are isolated case reports. In our
review, we have considered age and sex of the patients,
mechanism, associated lesion, diagnosing methods, com-
plications, treatment and corresponding outcome.
The epidemiologic dates are summarized in Table 1, 35
male cases (83.3%) and 7 female cases (16.7%). The
average age was 49 years (18 - 83). The most frequent
cause was traffic accident (33 cases, 78.6%), the second
frequent cause was fal l i ng ( 6 cases, 14.3 %).
3.2. Associated Lesions
Associated lesions are presented in Table 2. The rib frac-
tures (50%) were the most common ones and the lesions
of the bones (47.6%) were the second common ones. The
abdominal lesions and head injuries were also very
common (correspondingly 28.6% and 26.2%).
The methods used to diagnose the rupture of the pericar-
dium were showed in Table 3. In Gallego’s collection,
only 20% of the total 40 cases were diagnosed by diag-
nostic investigations before surgery. 80% of the cases
were diagnosed casually during surgical operation for
other unrelated lesions. In our collection, 38.1% of the
total 42 cases were diagnosed preoperatively by CT scan
and chest radiograph. Compared with Gallego’s collec-
tion , it is a great progress. This indicates that doctors’
ability of diagnosing traumatic rupture of the pericardium
has been gradually improving. In many cases, the pa-
tients got diagnosis and treatment promptly before sur-
gery, and the mortality and morbidity were reduced suc-
cessfully. But the diagnosis of traumatic pericardial rup-
Table 1. Epidemiology.
Parameters N %
Total cases 42 100
Men 35 83.3
Women 7 16.7
Mean age (years) 49
Mechanism of injury
traffic accident 33 78.6
Fall 6 14.3
Crush 3 7.1
Table 2. Summary of injuries associated with pericardial
Injuries N %
Fractures of th e ribs 21 50
Pulmonary contusion 13 31.0
Pneumothorax/hemopneumothorax 9 21.4
Pneumopericardium 2 4.8
Pneumopericardium and Pneumothorax/
hemopneumothorax 10 23.8
Pneumomediastinum 7 16.7
Atrial 2 4.8
Ventricular 3 7.1
Intrapricardial vessels 6 14.3
Rupture of the diaphragm 9 21.4
Abdominal lesio n s 12 28.6
Lesions of the bones 20 47.6
Head injuries 11 26.2
Table 3. Methods used to diagnosis pericardial rupture (N =
Thoracotomy 13 31.0
Celiotomy 7 16.7
CT scan and Chest radiograph16 38.1
CAT scan 2 4.8
Thoracoscopic examination 2 4.8
TVR (CPB) 1 2.4
Echocardiography 1 2.4
TVR (CPB): Tricuspid valve replacement (Cardiopulmonary Bypass).
ture is still a big challenge because of non-specific clini-
cal symptoms and shortage of the physical signs, espe-
cially for those patients without card iac herniation . In our
case, the patient had neither clinical symptoms nor
physical signs that suggested the possibility of pericardial
rupture. The patient was operated through thoracotomy
because of hem orrhage and hypotension.
The electrocardiogram was usually normal or showed
non-specific abonormalities and had no help for the di-
agnosis of pericardial rupture. Pneumopericardium may
be a valuable radiographic clue. In the event of pneu-
mopericardium, the Macklin effect is the major cause
, but the pericardial space may also be connected
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. SS
H. B. WANG, M. LI
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. SS
directly to the pleural cavity or tracheobronchi as a con-
sequence of pericardial tear. In our collection, 23.8% of
the total cases complicated with pneumopericardium and
pneumothorax/hemopneumothorax and got preoperative
diagnosis. Pneumopericardium together with pneu-
mothorax/hemopneumothorax may imply existing peri-
cardial rupture. Displacement or apparent enlargement of
the heart could be noted sometimes. Thoracoscopic ex-
amination may be a useful method for the diagnosis .
By this way, not only co uld w e kno w the diagno sis of th e
disease, but also the necessity of the tear repair.
The rupture of the pericardium could result from se-
vere complications. In our collection presented in Table
4, 50% of 42 patients complicated with cardiac herni-
ation, 16.7% of them complicated with diaphragmatic
hernia. 3 of them died of cardiac herniation although the
diagnosis was completed preoperatively. Herniated heart
could lead to sudden death because of strangulation and
circulatory blockage. Patients with cardiac herniation
could die of ventricular dysfunction or multiple organs
failure in spite of urgent thoracotomy . For some
cases, delayed cardiac herniation may take place, in
Clark’ report, a patient developed symptoms 5 years after
the cardiac hernia diagnosis and died of cardiac strangu-
3.4. Surgical Management
Not all of the pericardial tears need repair. In our case,
we managed the tear by a complete pericardiotomy. Our
collection showed that 71.4% of the lesions were re-
paired with patch, 4.8% of them were managed by
wound enlarged, and 9.5% of them were not repaired. It
is advisable to repair a tear of 8 - 12 cm in size because
of the risk of prolapse and strangulation of the heart .
In order to avoid the risk of acute tamponade, the com-
plete pericardiotomy operation is strongly recommended,
especially for those patients with cardiac confusion or
arrhythmia complications. For those cases complicated
with rupture of the diaphragm, the broken pericardium
does not need to be stitched.
The final outcome of patients with pericardial rupture
depends on the associated injuries and the prompt recog-
nition of a pericardial tear in the multiply traumatized
patient. The relation of updated public cases of pericar-
dial rupture due to blunt thoracic trauma was showed in
Table 5. In our collection, six of the 42 patients (14.3%)
died, 3 of them die of atrial/intrapricardial vessels rupture,
one die of asystole, one die of right ventricular dysfunc-
tion and renal failure(family give up), 1 case die of se-
vere craniocerebral trauma. Compare with Clark’ 
and Gallego’s collection, the mortality is low, but it is
difficult to tell the mortality of the pericardial rupture
alone, because of some cases die of several associated
Cardiac herniation may result in vascular collapse and
sudden death. But interestingly, there have been several
reports of asymptomatic luxation of the heart [40-42].
According to these reports, none of the patients devel-
oped hemodynamic instability. All of those patients with
a right dislocation of the heart didn't have the strangula-
tion of the outflow tracts.
From the literature review and our own case we conclude
Table 4. Complication of the pericardial rupture and treat-
Parameters N %
Total cases 42 100
Cardiac herniation 21 50
Traumatic diaphragmatic hernia 7 16.7
Treatment of the tear
Repaired 30 71.4
Not repaired 4 9.5
Wound enlarged 2 4.8
Table 5. Relation of to date public cases of pericardial rupture due to blunt thoracic trauma.
Associated injury to
Period Reference no. N of patients Heart Aorta
1706-1937 4 84 47 3 2 60
1937-1982 11 142 40 4 99 38
1982-1985 7 16 4 1 14 2
1983-1993 16 40 8 0 23 17
1994-2011 present series 42 5 2 36 6
H. B. WANG, M. LI 441
that, in spite of nonspecific symptoms and diagnosis dif-
ficulty, preoperative diagnosis of traumatic rupture of the
pericardium has been improved in recent 17 years, and
the result is satisfactory. Early detection and timely
treatment is the key. Pneumopericardium may be a valu-
able radiographic clue for diagnosis. Cardiac herniation
with right dislocation may prevent strangulation of the
outflow tracts from happening. The management of peri-
cardial rupture is mainly to avoid the risk of cardiac
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