Updated: 1/20/2020

Boerhaave Syndrome

Review Topic
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  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Labs
    • complete blood cell count
      • may see a leukocytosis
  • Diagnostic criteria
    • based on clinical presentation and image findings
  • 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
  • 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
  • Sepsis
  • Pneumomediastinum
  • Mediastinitis
  • Empyema
  • Subcutaneous emphysema
  • Mediastinal abscess

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Questions (4)
Lab Values
Blood, Plasma, Serum Reference Range
ALT 8-20 U/L
Amylase, serum 25-125 U/L
AST 8-20 U/L
Bilirubin, serum (adult) Total // Direct 0.1-1.0 mg/dL // 0.0-0.3 mg/dL
Calcium, serum (Ca2+) 8.4-10.2 mg/dL
Cholesterol, serum Rec: < 200 mg/dL
Cortisol, serum 0800 h: 5-23 μg/dL //1600 h:
3-15 μg/dL
2000 h: ≤ 50% of 0800 h
Creatine kinase, serum Male: 25-90 U/L
Female: 10-70 U/L
Creatinine, serum 0.6-1.2 mg/dL
Electrolytes, serum  
Sodium (Na+) 136-145 mEq/L
Chloride (Cl-) 95-105 mEq/L
Potassium (K+) 3.5-5.0 mEq/L
Bicarbonate (HCO3-) 22-28 mEq/L
Magnesium (Mg2+) 1.5-2.0 mEq/L
Estriol, total, serum (in pregnancy)  
24-28 wks // 32-36 wks 30-170 ng/mL // 60-280 ng/mL
28-32 wk // 36-40 wks 40-220 ng/mL // 80-350 ng/mL
Ferritin, serum Male: 15-200 ng/mL
Female: 12-150 ng/mL
Follicle-stimulating hormone, serum/plasma Male: 4-25 mIU/mL
Female: premenopause: 4-30 mIU/mL
midcycle peak: 10-90 mIU/mL
postmenopause: 40-250
pH 7.35-7.45
PCO2 33-45 mmHg
PO2 75-105 mmHg
Glucose, serum Fasting: 70-110 mg/dL
2-h postprandial:<120 mg/dL
Growth hormone - arginine stimulation Fasting: <5 ng/mL
Provocative stimuli: > 7ng/mL
Immunoglobulins, serum  
IgA 76-390 mg/dL
IgE 0-380 IU/mL
IgG 650-1500 mg/dL
IgM 40-345 mg/dL
Iron 50-170 μg/dL
Lactate dehydrogenase, serum 45-90 U/L
Luteinizing hormone, serum/plasma Male: 6-23 mIU/mL
Female: follicular phase: 5-30 mIU/mL
midcycle: 75-150 mIU/mL
postmenopause 30-200 mIU/mL
Osmolality, serum 275-295 mOsmol/kd H2O
Parathyroid hormone, serume, N-terminal 230-630 pg/mL
Phosphatase (alkaline), serum (p-NPP at 30° C) 20-70 U/L
Phosphorus (inorganic), serum 3.0-4.5 mg/dL
Prolactin, serum (hPRL) < 20 ng/mL
Proteins, serum  
Total (recumbent) 6.0-7.8 g/dL
Albumin 3.5-5.5 g/dL
Globulin 2.3-3.5 g/dL
Thyroid-stimulating hormone, serum or plasma .5-5.0 μU/mL
Thyroidal iodine (123I) uptake 8%-30% of administered dose/24h
Thyroxine (T4), serum 5-12 μg/dL
Triglycerides, serum 35-160 mg/dL
Triiodothyronine (T3), serum (RIA) 115-190 ng/dL
Triiodothyronine (T3) resin uptake 25%-35%
Urea nitrogen, serum 7-18 mg/dL
Uric acid, serum 3.0-8.2 mg/dL
Hematologic Reference Range
Bleeding time 2-7 minutes
Erythrocyte count Male: 4.3-5.9 million/mm3
Female: 3.5-5.5 million mm3
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (Westergren) Male: 0-15 mm/h
Female: 0-20 mm/h
Hematocrit Male: 41%-53%
Female: 36%-46%
Hemoglobin A1c ≤ 6 %
Hemoglobin, blood Male: 13.5-17.5 g/dL
Female: 12.0-16.0 g/dL
Hemoglobin, plasma 1-4 mg/dL
Leukocyte count and differential  
Leukocyte count 4,500-11,000/mm3
Segmented neutrophils 54%-62%
Bands 3%-5%
Eosinophils 1%-3%
Basophils 0%-0.75%
Lymphocytes 25%-33%
Monocytes 3%-7%
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin 25.4-34.6 pg/cell
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration 31%-36% Hb/cell
Mean corpuscular volume 80-100 μm3
Partial thromboplastin time (activated) 25-40 seconds
Platelet count 150,000-400,000/mm3
Prothrombin time 11-15 seconds
Reticulocyte count 0.5%-1.5% of red cells
Thrombin time < 2 seconds deviation from control
Plasma Male: 25-43 mL/kg
Female: 28-45 mL/kg
Red cell Male: 20-36 mL/kg
Female: 19-31 mL/kg
Cerebrospinal Fluid Reference Range
Cell count 0-5/mm3
Chloride 118-132 mEq/L
Gamma globulin 3%-12% total proteins
Glucose 40-70 mg/dL
Pressure 70-180 mm H2O
Proteins, total < 40 mg/dL
Sweat Reference Range
Chloride 0-35 mmol/L
Calcium 100-300 mg/24 h
Chloride Varies with intake
Creatinine clearance Male: 97-137 mL/min
Female: 88-128 mL/min
Estriol, total (in pregnancy)  
30 wks 6-18 mg/24 h
35 wks 9-28 mg/24 h
40 wks 13-42 mg/24 h
17-Hydroxycorticosteroids Male: 3.0-10.0 mg/24 h
Female: 2.0-8.0 mg/24 h
17-Ketosteroids, total Male: 8-20 mg/24 h
Female: 6-15 mg/24 h
Osmolality 50-1400 mOsmol/kg H2O
Oxalate 8-40 μg/mL
Potassium Varies with diet
Proteins, total < 150 mg/24 h
Sodium Varies with diet
Uric acid Varies with diet
Body Mass Index (BMI) Adult: 19-25 kg/m2

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