Esophageal perforation

Revision as of 15:42, 19 March 2019 by SLuckettG (talk | contribs) (Disposition)


  • Full thickness perforation of the esophagus
  • Secondary to sudden increase in esophageal pressure


  • Iatrogenic (most common)
    • Endoscopy
  • Boerhaave syndrome
  • Thoracic Trauma
    • Penetrating
    • Blunt (rare)
  • Caustic ingestion
  • Foreign body
    • Bone
    • Button battery
  • Infection (rare)
  • Tumor
  • Aortic pathology
  • Barrett esophagus
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

Clinical Features

Mackler’s triad

  • Pathognomonic for Boerhaave syndrome
    • Chest pain
    • Vomiting
    • Subcutaneous emphysema


  • Pain
    • Acute, severe, unrelenting, diffuse
    • May be worse on neck flexion or with swallowing
    • May be localized to chest, neck, abdomen; radiate to back and shoulders
    • Occurs suddenly, often after forceful vomiting
  • Dysphagia
  • Dyspnea
  • Hematemesis

Physical Exam

  • Cervical subcutaneous emphysema
  • Mediastinal emphysema
    • Takes time to develop
    • Absence does not rule out perforation
    • Hamman's sign
      • Mediastinal crunching sound
  • May rapidly develop sepsis due to mediastinitis

Differential Diagnosis

Chest pain




Thoracic Trauma



  • CXR: 90% will have radiographic abnormalities, nonspecific in nature
Mediastinal air adjacent to the aorta and tracking cephalad adjacent to the left common carotid artery.
    • Pneumomediastinum
    • Abnormal cardiomediastinal contour
    • Pneumothorax
    • Pleural effusion
  • Esophagram
    • Water soluble contrast
    • Preferred study as it allows for definitive diagnosis
  • CT chest
    • May show pneumomediastinum
    • Will not definitively show perforation
  • Emergent endoscopy
    • May worsen the tear during insufflation



  • Admit (generally to OR for emergent repair)

See Also


  1. Hess JM, Lowell MJ: Esophagus, Stomach and Duodenum, in Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al (eds): Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice, ed 7. St. Louis, Mosby, Inc., 2010, (Ch) 89: p 1170-1187