Thoracic injuries are life-threatening. They affect vital organs like your heart, lungs, and major arteries and veins. Doctors might need to provide expensive medical treatment, including emergency surgery, to save your life after suffering thoracic injuries.
These injuries can happen under a variety of conditions and in a variety of ways. Almost any incident, from a fall to a car accident, can cause the kind of trauma that damages the organs inside your thoracic cavity.
Table of Contents
What Is the Anatomy of Your Thorax?
“Thoracic” means something that relates to the thorax. Your thorax sits between your head and abdomen. It corresponds to your chest. More specifically, the thorax sits between the base of your neck and your diaphragm.
While there is no hard and fast rule, doctors use the word “chest” to refer to the exterior structures of the thorax, while they use the word “thoracic” to refer to the interior structures. Thus, your chest includes your ribcage, chest muscles, and thoracic spine. Your thoracic cavity contains your lungs, heart, aorta, trachea, and esophagus.
The thoracic cavity contains connective tissues to hold your organs in place. It also has membranes, like the pericardium and pleura, to separate the organs so they can move without rubbing against one another.
How Do Thoracic Injuries Happen?
Often, thoracic injuries result from chest trauma, such as:
Penetrating trauma happens when a foreign object pierces the chest and enters the thoracic cavity. The object might pass through the chest. For example, an assault with a gun can result in a bullet entering your chest, passing through the thoracic cavity, and exiting out of your chest.
The object that pierces your chest may also remain lodged in your chest. Suppose that you suffer penetrating chest trauma when you fall onto a protruding piece of rebar in a construction accident. EMTs may need to transport you to the hospital with the rebar lodged in your chest to avoid creating an open wound that causes you to bleed to death.
You suffer blunt trauma when your chest hits something, or something hits your chest, without creating an open wound. Thus, you could suffer blunt trauma when a vehicle hits your chest in a pedestrian accident. Similarly, the ground could cause blunt trauma when you strike your chest on it after a fall.
Blunt trauma can also cause a form of secondary penetrating trauma. When your chest gets hit by a blunt blow, it can break your ribs. The ribs then penetrate the thoracic cavity, damaging the organs within.
Explosions produce blast waves. These waves of pressurized air can squeeze the chest. More importantly, the shock wave can rupture tissues in the lungs. A combination of bleeding and fluid leaks can cause severe lung damage called blast lung.
Blast injuries are common among combat soldiers and sailors. Workers in occupations that use explosives can also suffer blast lung. Examples of these jobs include mining, demolitions, and oil and gas extraction.
What Are Some Examples of Thoracic Injuries?
Thoracic injuries can include a wide range of tissue damage. Some examples of thoracic injuries include the following:
Bleeding inside the thoracic cavity can endanger your life. Blood loss can cause your blood pressure to drop and lead to shock.
Blood in your thoracic cavity can also cause symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Dizziness and nausea
- Blurry vision
Sometimes, internal bleeding will resolve itself as the source of the bleeding develops a clot. But in severe cases, doctors must operate to prevent you from bleeding to death.
Your heart has a membrane around it called the pericardium. This membrane isolates the heart from the rest of your thoracic organs. Chest trauma can cause the pericardium to fill with fluid. The pressurized fluid strangles the heart, causing it to beat irregularly.
Symptoms of cardiac tamponade include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
You need emergency treatment for a cardiac tamponade. This treatment may include draining the fluid in the pericardium using a catheter.
Pneumothorax and Hemothorax
The space around your lungs maintains a vacuum. When your chest muscles expand your chest, the vacuum allows your lungs to expand with air. Without this vacuum, your lungs cannot fill because they contain no muscles to displace any air in the space around them. Instead, they merely fill with air when your chest muscles create the space for them to expand.
A collapsed lung happens when this vacuum gets disturbed. This typically happens in one of two ways. In a pneumothorax, air leaks into the space around the lungs. In a hemothorax, blood or other fluid fills the space surrounding them.
In both cases, the pressure causes one or both lungs to deflate. With the space around them filled, the lungs cannot re-inflate.
The symptoms of a collapsed lung include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Blue-tinted skin
Without emergency treatment, you can suffer permanent lung damage or even death. Treatment for a collapsed lung includes using a large syringe to suck the air or fluid out of the space around the lungs. Once evacuated, the lungs can re-expand.
Your aorta is the major blood vessel at the top of your heart. All the blood leaving your heart to get pumped through your body passes through the aorta. When the aorta develops a weak spot, it can leak. Because of the volume of blood passing through the aorta, a major leak can cause you to suddenly bleed to death.
If you have a minor leak, emergency surgery might save your life. But because of the seriousness of the injury, you might require significant time to recover. Additionally, your doctor may suggest that you limit your activities. These limitations might force you to change your job or retire altogether.
How Can I Get Compensated For Thoracic Injuries?
You can pursue compensation for thoracic injuries that resulted from someone else’s intentional or negligent acts. To seek compensation, you must prove liability by showing that someone intended to cause harmful contact with you or failed to exercise reasonable care.
Once you prove liability, you can seek compensation for your medical bills, income losses, and diminished earning capacity. You can also pursue compensation for your pain, mental anguish, and disability.
A thoracic injury may require expensive treatment. After suffering these types of injuries, you may also need significant recovery time. Contact WGK Personal Injury Lawyers at (410) 837-2144 for a free consultation to discuss the compensation you can seek for thoracic injuries under Maryland law.