The records of 20 patients with gunshot wounds of the esophagus seen from 1973 through 1985 were reviewed. Nine perforations were cervical, 10 were thoracic, and 1 was abdominal. Because physical findings and plain roentgenograms lack specificity, a high index of suspicion based on the path of the bullet tract is essential for early diagnosis. Esophageal injury should especially be suspected when the bullet wound is transcervical or transmediastinal. Perforation was diagnosed by esophagoscopy in 9 patients, esophagography in 4, and surgical exploration in 7. Mean time from admission to operation was 3.8 hours. Associated injuries occurred frequently. Eighteen patients were treated by primary closure and wide drainage, and 2 were managed by esophageal exclusion. There were 2 perioperative deaths, both in patients with associated aortic injuries, and 1 late death, for an overall mortality of 15%. There was one postoperative leak following a cervical repair. No leaks occurred in patients having a thoracic repair. The findings indicate that esophageal perforation must be sought by a variety of methods. With prompt diagnosis and early operation, primary repair can be safely accomplished. When sepsis from esophageal leak is avoided, mortality and major morbidity are related to associated injuries.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine