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Updated: Feb 12 2020

Boerhaave Syndrome

  • Snapshot
    • A 19-year-old woman presents to the emergency department with severe retrosternal chest pain. Her symptoms began immediately after vomiting. Medical history is significant for bulimia nervosa. Physical examination is notable for crepitus upon chest wall palpation. A barium swallow study is shown.
  • Introduction
    • Clinical definition
      • spontaneous transmural esophageal rupture secondary to an acute increase in intraesophageal pressure
        • a negative intrathoracic pressure from severe straining or vomiting that contributes to rupture as well
    • Epidemiology
      • associated conditions
        • excessive vomiting and retching
          • e.g., eating disorders and excessive alcohol use
    • Pathogenesis
      • increased intraesophageal pressure and negative intrathoracic pressure usually leads to a perforation in the left posterolateral aspect of the distal thoracic esophagus
        • note that the perforation can also involve the cervical and abdominal esophagus
      • esophageal perforation results in leakage of gastric contents into the
        • mediastinal cavity which leads to
          • chemical mediastinitis
          • mediastinal emphysema
          • mediastinal bacterial infection and necrosis
        • pleural cavity which leads to a pleural effusion
    • Prognosis
      • associated with high morbidity and mortality
        • untreated patients are at risk of sepsis and organ failure
        • this is why early recognition and immediate surgical intervention is required
  • Presentation
    • Symptoms
      • excruciating retrosternal chest pain
    • Physical exam
      • crepitus upon chest wall palpation
        • suggests subcutaneous emphysema
      • Hamman sign
        • mediastinal crackling that is concurrent with each heart beat while the patient is in the left lateral decubitus position
  • Imaging
    • Contrast esophagram
      • indications
        • perform in patients with features concerning for Boerhaave syndrome
      • modality
        • with water soluble contrast (e.g., Gastrografin)
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
      • indication
        • perform in patients with features concerning for Boerhaave syndrome and who a diagnosis cannot be made on contrast esophagram or the perforation is suspected to be difficult to find
  • Studies
    • Labs
      • complete blood cell count
        • may see a leukocytosis
    • Diagnostic criteria
      • based on clinical presentation and image findings
  • Differential
    • Mallory-Weiss syndrome
      • esophageal rupture is non-transmural and is typically associated with hematemesis
    • Myocardial infarction
    • Pancreatitis
    • Peptic ulcer perforation
    • Aortic aneurysm dissection
    • Spontaneous pneumothorax
  • Treatment
    • Conservative
      • intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and admission to the intensive care unit
        • indication
          • initial management prior to surgical intervention
    • Operative
      • direct repair of esophageal rupture
        • indication
          • for the surgical repair of esophageal perforation in Boerhaave syndrome
  • Complications
    • Sepsis
    • Pneumomediastinum
    • Mediastinitis
    • Empyema
    • Subcutaneous emphysema
    • Mediastinal abscess
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