Diaphragmatic Trauma

Diaphragmatic Trauma is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Emergency Consult.

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  • Penetrating injury:
    • Violation of the diaphragm by penetrating object (most commonly stab and gunshot wounds)
    • May involve any portion of diaphragm
    • Smaller defect compared with blunt injuries (more likely to be missed)
  • Blunt injury:
    • Increased intra-abdominal or intrathoracic pressure is transmitted to diaphragm, causing rupture.
    • Usually due to motor vehicle crashes
    • Injuries are more commonly left-sided:
      • Left hemidiaphragm has posterolateral embryologic point of weakness.
      • Right hemidiaphragm is protected by liver.
      • Injuries are larger than with penetrating injury (frequently between 5 and 15 cm in length).
  • Diaphragmatic defects do not heal spontaneously because of pleuroperitoneal pressure gradient:
    • May exceed 100 cm H2O during maximal respiratory effort
    • Promotes herniation of abdominal contents through rent in diaphragm and into chest


Uncommon; <1% of all traumatic injuries


  • Lateral torso impact is 3 times more likely to result in ipsilateral diaphragmatic rupture than frontal impact.
  • Suspect diaphragmatic injury:
    • Penetrating trauma to thoracoabdominal area
    • Injuries that cross plane of the diaphragm

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