Updated: 1/20/2020

Boerhaave Syndrome

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Snapshot
  • A 19-year-old college student presents to the emergency department with excruciating retrosternal chest pain that radiates to the back. She describes the pain as sharp and worsens with swallowing. She reports that her symptoms began after vomiting 1 hour ago. Medical history is significant for anorexia nervosa. Her temperature is 100.4°F (38°C), blood pressure is 135/90 mmHg, pulse is 105/min, and respirations are 20/min. On physical exam, there is crepitus upon chest palpation. A barium esophagram is performed and shows leakage of water-soluble contrast from the lower thoracic esophagus.
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
    • transmural esophageal injury 
      • 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
    • profuse vomiting
    • odynophagia
  • 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, nil per os (NPO), and admission to the intensive care unit
      • indication
        • initial management prior to surgical intervention
  • Operative
    • esophageal rupture repair
      • indication
        • for the surgical repair of esophageal perforation in Boerhaave syndrome
Complications
  • Sepsis
  • Pneumomediastinum
  • Mediastinitis
  • Empyema
  • Subcutaneous emphysema
  • Mediastinal abscess

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