Thoracic injury is common on the battlefield and in terrorist attacks, occurring in 10% to 70% of patients depending on the type of weapons used. Typical injuries seen include bullet, blast, and fragment injuries to the thorax, which are often associated with injuries to other parts of the body. Initial treatment prehospital and in the ED is carried out according to the principles of Tactical Combat Casualty Care or other standard trauma management systems. Immediately life-threatening problems including catastrophic hemorrhage are dealt with rapidly, and early consideration is given to CT scanning or rapid surgical intervention where appropriate. All patients should be given lung-protective ventilation. Treatment of these patients in the critical care unit is complicated by the severity of associated injuries and by features specific to combat trauma including blast lung injury, a high incidence of delirium, unusual infections such as colonization with multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii complex, and sometimes invasive fungal infections. A minority of patients with blast lung injury in published series have been successfully treated with prolonged respiratory support with high-frequency oscillatory ventilation and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The role of newer treatment options such as resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta is not yet known. In this article we review the relatively sparse literature on this group of patients and provide practical advice based on the literature and our institution’s extensive experience of managing battlefield casualties.
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