Flail Chest – How Does It Occur And What Are The First Aid Treatments For It?

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How Does Flail Chest Happen?

Whenever the chest receives a severe trauma – such as from a heavy blow or serious accidents causing multiple rib fractures – it is likely to result in a condition known as flail chest. This is a life-threatening event that results from extreme rib cage fractures, detaching it from the rest of the chest cavity. Whenever the broken rib cages move independently from the rest of the chest wall, it results in paradoxical respiration or paradoxical breathing. When this happens, there is an associated pain or increased workload that occurs during breathing.  Flail chest is considered as a life threatening condition, because if left untreated, it could result to death. Time and immediate treatment is therefore crucial for flail chest victims. Individuals who have recognized and learned the value of first aid courses will know how to manage flail chest victims.

Flail Chest – What are the Signs and Symptoms?

Severe pain exhibited by a victim of flail chest.
Severe pain exhibited by a victim of flail chest.

The usual symptoms seen include chest pain, labored and difficult breathing. They will be gasping for air, because of the difficulties associated. Further assessment will show bluish discoloration of the mouth, skin in the affected chest area and nail bed. The flailed rib cages already moves in an opposite direction during the breathing process; for instance, when the diaphragm contracts during exhalation, the flailed part moves outward, and when the diaphragm expands during inspiration, the flailed part moves inward. The victim may also lose consciousness, resulting to shock in the process.

What Are The First Aid Techniques For Flail Chest?

First of all, we need to provide safety for the victim of the flail chest. If he/she is outdoors in a life-threatening environment, we need to move him/her in a safer place. Let us assume that you have already assessed the patient for signs and symptoms of flail chest; the next thing to do is to call the emergency response. Third, we need to stabilize the affected part. To do this, we need to place a pillow on the flailed segment of the chest to put pressure on it and prevent it from moving in an opposite direction whenever the victim breathes. Always remember that if the flail segment does not move oppositely, it could less likely cause damages to nearby organs, most especially the lungs and the heart.

Additional Tips

If there is no accessible emergency number in the area, rush the victim to the emergency department as soon as possible. If no pillow is available, anything that helps stabilize the flail segment could be used – thick clothing, blanket or jacket that is rolled up over the site of the injury.

Related Video on Flail Chest:

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWJgZM8PcV8″ width=”220″]


“Flail Chest.”  Wikipedia. Retrieved online on June 18, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flail_chest#cite_note-4 “The Management of Flail Chest.” (2007).Thoracic Surgical Clinic. Authors Pettiford, B., Luketich, J. & Landreneau, R.

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