- human anatomy showing the skeleton from the back image by patrimonio designs from Fotolia.com
Flail chest is a condition where the rib cage is separated from the rest of the chest wall, and it usually happens after a blunt trauma, such as a car accident or fall. The lungs are unable to expand fully which causes trouble in breathing. This condition can lead to long-term disability or even death if not treated correctly. When diagnosing flail chest, the emergency room personnel usually take several different chest x-rays. Doctors will look at the ribs and surrounding organs to make sure that there aren't any punctures in lungs or blood vessels because the ribs, when broken, can be very sharp.
- Once flail chest is diagnosed, the patient is put on 100 percent oxygen with a chest tube and face mask--standard treatment to achieve chest cavity stability. If oxygen must be continued for a long period of time, however, it can cause pneumonia. So this treatment is usually used only temporarily.
- The next form of treatment for flail chest is corrective surgery. The need for it is determined on a case-by-case basis. It isn't used every time, or even very often, because it has only a limited prognosis for full recovery .
- For most flail chest patients, the long-term treatment is pain medication. The first type of pain medication is analgesic, the most common form of treatment because it's not usually habit-forming. The second kind of pain medicine is opioid. In high doses it can produce respiratory depression, but it can be helpful in smaller doses combined with a local anesthetic administered via epidural injection.