To describe the nature of delayed hemothorax occurring after blunt thoracic trauma and to identify the population at risk for this complication.
A retrospective review was conducted of 36 consecutive patients with hemothorax consequent to blunt trauma. Criteria for the definition of delayed hemothorax were established involving normal interval chest radiographs or computed tomographic scans during hospitalization.
Twelve cases of delayed development of hemothorax were identified. Ninety-two percent of cases occurred in patients with multiple or displaced rib fractures. Presentation occurred from 18 hours to 6 days after injury. Eleven of the 12 cases were heralded by a prodrome of new pleuritic chest pain and dyspnea that occurred from 4 to 19 hours before treatment.
Delayed hemothorax after blunt trauma is a unique entity occurring in patients with multiple or displaced rib fractures. Vigilance for the recognizable prodrome in the high-risk population should allow early remediation of this complication.