Chest Contusion: Complications, Treatment & Recovery Time

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  • 0:03 Chest Background
  • 1:19 Chest Contusion Complications
  • 3:37 Chest Contusion Treatment
  • 4:42 Chest Contusion Recovery
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

A chest contusion is an injury to the chest that results in bruising or damage to local tissue and blood vessels. This lesson is about chest contusions, treatment, potential complications, and recovery time.

Chest Background

''Hoboken police? This is Billy Bouncer, calling from the Lively Lizard Lounge. There's been a fight and we have several injured victims. One is clutching his chest. Could you please send a car, and maybe an ambulance? Have any idea how long it'll take? Okay, thanks.''

The chest, or thorax, is an area that covers a lot of territory. A chest contusion, or, put simply, a bruise, is an injury caused by a blow or external force that does not break the skin but does injure blood vessels and other tissues beneath the skin. A collection of blood forming beneath the skin as a result of a contusion is a hematoma. Since the chest itself contains many organs and skeletal structures, injuries to these organs as a result of chest contusion must also be considered.

The chest is the anterior (frontal) part of the upper body that contains the heart, lungs, ribs, clavicles (collar bones), diaphragm, and the sternum, or breastbone. The heart is a muscular organ that lies in between the two lungs, beneath the sternum. An injury or contusion to the sternum or rib area can affect either the heart or lungs, or both. Injuries to other parts of the chest can damage additional organs as well, such as the liver or spleen.

Chest Contusion Complications

The complications of a chest contusion can range from something as minor as swelling and discomfort to something as lethal as a contusion of the heart or lung that leads to death. The severity of the injury depends upon the amount of force applied to the area, and on what area or areas are injured. Let's look at some of these complications one at a time.

1. Myocardial Contusion

A recent news story tells of a young French Instagram model who died in a freak accident in which a canister of whipped cream blew up and struck her in the chest. The canister was under high pressure, and in all likelihood, it struck her in such a way as to affect the heart, causing a myocardial contusion. In this situation, the heart itself is actually bruised. This can affect both the nerve and muscle tissue of the heart, jeopardizing its ability to contract and circulate blood through the entire body.

2. Pulmonary Contusion

This is a particularly dangerous type of injury because all of its effects may not show up right away, but can slowly become apparent and be lethal. A forceful chest trauma can cause physical injury to the lung tissue, yielding slow bleeding and swelling, or edema. The patient may develop symptoms gradually, including shortness of breath (hypoxia), low blood oxygen levels, and even ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, which can lead to respiratory failure. This is one reason why most patients who have sustained any sort of chest injury should make a visit to the emergency room.

3. Bruised Sternum

The sternum is connected to the ribs with supportive tissue known as cartilage. The sternum can be fractured in a blunt chest injury, or it can simply be bruised. This type of injury, while less severe than a myocardial or pulmonary contusion, is painful and can compromise one's ability to take a full, deep breath. This can lead to pneumonia or other complications. Attached ribs may also be fractured or injured, causing additional pain and difficulty breathing. Tenderness in the area, along with visible bruising and swelling, may be present.

4. Other Chest Contusions

Other vital organs within the chest cavity can be affected by a chest contusion, depending upon its location. The liver, spleen, and esophagus are located in the chest area and can be injured during any chest trauma.

Chest Contusion Treatment

The treatment of a chest contusion depends upon its severity and location. For something as simple as a bruised sternum, NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like Motrin or aspirin, are effective in relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Ice packs may also be applied. Cough suppressants may be needed as well, since coughing aggravates pain due to movement of the chest.

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