Penetrating cardiac injuries - Current evaluation and management of the stable patient
Patients with penetrating cardiac injuries present in a stable or only mildly shocked condition - especially if the laceration has sealed off and the patient has been adequately resuscitated. A large proportion of patients presenting to our unit are in a reasonably stable condition after resuscitation, and rapid diagnosis may be difficult. We present our experience over a 5-year period (191 patients), with particular reference to the stable patient. All patients with penetrating precordial wounds should be assessed for a possible cardiac injury, especially if a period of hypotension has occurred. Clinical signs, central venous pressure, chest radiograph, pericardiocentesis and subxiphoid window are not always helpful in the diagnosis. Cardiac ultrasound is very useful (in the absence of haemothorax), and was performed in 103 of 191 patients, with 8 false-negatives and 3 false-positives. When an unstable patient presents with an obvious diagnosis use of cardiac ultrasound should be restricted. A subxiphoid window has diagnostic value where the cardiac ultrasound is inconclusive.