Thoracic injuries are infrequent among children, but still represent one of the leading causes of pediatric mortality. Studies on pediatric chest trauma are dated, and little is known of outcomes in different age categories. This study aims to provide an overview of the incidence, injury patterns, and in-hospital outcomes of children with chest injuries. A nationwide retrospective cohort study was performed on children with chest injuries, using data from the Dutch Trauma Registry. All patients admitted to a Dutch hospital between January 2015 and December 2019, with an abbreviated injury scale score of the thorax between 2 and 6, or at least one rib fracture, were included. Incidence rates of chest injuries were calculated with demographic data from the Dutch Population Register. Injury patterns and in-hospital outcomes were assessed in children in four different age groups. A total of 66,751 children were admitted to a hospital in the Netherlands after a trauma between January 2015 and December 2019, of whom 733 (1.1%) sustained chest injuries accounting for an incidence rate of 4.9 per 100,000 person-years. The median age was 10.9 (interquartile range (IQR) 5.7–14.2) years and 62.6% were male. In a quarter of all children, the mechanisms were not further specified or unknown. Most prevalent injuries were lung contusions (40.5%) and rib fractures (27.6%). The median hospital length of stay was 3 (IQR 2–8) days, with 43.4% being admitted to the intensive care unit. The 30-day mortality rate was 6.8%.
Conclusion: Pediatric chest trauma still results in substantial adverse outcomes, such as disability and mortality. Lung contusions may be inflicted without fracturing the ribs. This contrasting injury pattern compared to adults underlines the importance of evaluating children with chest injuries with additional caution.
What is Known:
• Chest injuries are rare among children, but represent one of the leading causes of pediatric mortality.
• Children show distinct injury patterns in which pulmonary contusions are more prevalent than rib fractures.
What is New:
• The proportion of chest injuries among pediatric trauma patients is currently lower than reported in previous literature, but still leads to substantial adverse outcomes, such as disabilities and death.
• The incidence of rib fractures gradually increases with age and in particular around puberty when ossification of the ribs becomes completed. The incidence of rib fractures among infants is remarkably high, which is strongly suggestive for nonaccidental trauma.