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Spontaneous pneumomediastinum: an uncommon clinical problem with a potential for missed or delayed diagnosis


A 15-year-old man presented with an acute history of facial swelling following a bout of forceful eructation after eating. Subcutaneous emphysema was noted on examination of his left face and neck. He was initially managed with intravenous antibiotics for suspected facial infection. A chest radiograph performed on day 3 of admission identified subcutaneous emphysema of the upper thorax and neck. CT with oral contrast confirmed extensive subcutaneous emphysema of neck, thorax and upper abdomen, with associated pneumomediastinum. The site of air leak was not identified. He subsequently underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and this was normal. Despite the delay in diagnosis, he remained haemodynamically stable, and repeated radiography showed improvement reflecting the benign course of this condition as described in existing literature. There are no previous published reports of spontaneous pneumomediastinum following eructation; therefore, high clinical suspicion should be maintained in this presentation.

  • pneumomediastinum
  • surgery
  • oesophagus
  • healthcare improvement and patient safety

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