Esophageal perforation

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  • Full thickness perforation of the esophagus
  • Secondary to sudden increase in esophageal pressure
  • Perforation is usually posterolateral


Clinical Features

Mackler’s triad


  • 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.
  • 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

External Links


  1. Kaman L, Iqbal J, Kundil B, Kochhar R. Management of Esophageal Perforation in Adults. Gastroenterology Res. 2010;3(6):235-244. doi:10.4021/gr263w
  2. 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