Table of Contents    
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 201-204  

Spontaneous pneumomediastinum with pneumopericardium, surgical emphysema, pneumothorax, and epidural pneumotosis: A rare association

1 Department of Surgery, GGS Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, Punjab, India
2 Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, GGS Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, Punjab, India
3 Department of ENT, GGS Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, Punjab, India
4 Department of Radiodiagnosis, GGS Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, Punjab, India

Date of Web Publication18-Feb-2014

Correspondence Address:
Haramritpal Kaur
Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Unit, GGS Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot, Punjab
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0976-9668.127330

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Pneumomediastinum is usually associated with subcutaneous emphysema and pneumopericardium, but rarely associated with pneumothorax and epidural pneumotosis. We report extremely rare simultaneous occurrence of self-limiting pneumomediastinum, pneumopericardium, surgical emphysema, pneumothorax, and epidural pneumotosis in an 18-year-old gentleman in the absence of identifiable cause.

Keywords: Epidural pneumotosis, pneumomediastinum, pneumothorax, spontaneous, surgical emphysema

How to cite this article:
Singh A, Kaur H, Singh G, Aggarwal S. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum with pneumopericardium, surgical emphysema, pneumothorax, and epidural pneumotosis: A rare association. J Nat Sc Biol Med 2014;5:201-4

How to cite this URL:
Singh A, Kaur H, Singh G, Aggarwal S. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum with pneumopericardium, surgical emphysema, pneumothorax, and epidural pneumotosis: A rare association. J Nat Sc Biol Med [serial online] 2014 [cited 2021 Feb 24];5:201-4. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Spontaneous pneumomediastinal emphysema (pneumomediastinum), pneumopericardium may be defined as the presence of free air in the mediastinum structures and pericardial sac without any precipitating cause. [1] It is an uncommon, but important condition found in healthy young adults presenting with chest pain and shortness of breath. [2] It results from sudden increase in intra-alveolar pressure leading to rupture of perivascular alveoli. Air escapes into perivascular connective tissue with subsequent dissection into the mediastinum. It may also dissect superiorly into the visceral, retropharyngeal, and subcutaneous spaces of neck or even in spinal spaces. Spinal pneumotosis with spontaneous pneumomediastinum is rare. There are only sporadic cases reported in the literature on this condition. [3] In this case report, we describe a patient with spontaneous pneumomediastinum, pneumopericardium, bilateral mild pneumothorax associated with spinal pneumotosis who presented with emphysema neck and chest region along with difficulty in breathing and hoarseness of voice without any identifiable cause.

   Case Report Top

An 18-year-old male was admitted in emergency department complaining of gradual swelling on face, neck and chest, hoarseness of voice along with difficulty in breathing. He had no previous history of cough, fever, loss of weight, night sweating, recent trauma, vomiting, foreign body lodgment, and drug abuse. He was non-smoker and non-alcoholic.

On physical examination patient was afebrile, his pulse rate was 110/min, respiratory rate 18/min, blood pressure 130/86 mm of Hg, and arterial saturation (Spo 2 ) was 95% on room air. On palpation trachea was central and there was subcutaneous emphysema on face, neck, and chest region. On chest auscultation, the air entry was normal on both sides. Other clinical examination was essentially normal. ECG showed sinus tachycardia. Chest X-ray revealed surgical emphysema in soft tissue over chest and neck [Figure 1]. His routine investigations and biochemical results including arterial blood gas analysis were normal. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate was 20 mm/first hour. Fibroptic laryngosopy was normal. Computed tomography (CT) scan of neck and thorax showed evidence of marked pneumomediastinum and pneumopericardium, mild bilateral pneumothorax with few sub-pleural emphymatous bullae in both upper lobes, marked soft tissue emphysema along anterior and lateral chest, and also in superficial and deep neck spaces. Superiorly, the soft-tissue emphysema was extending along right infratemporal fossa and masticular space. Few air foci were also seen in posterior epidural space in cervico-dorsal spine [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]. Trachea, main bronchi, visualized portion of oesophagus, pharyngeal, and laryngeal air appeared normal. No obvious rent was seen. Echocardiography was inconclusive due to poor visualization of cardiac structures which was due to presence of air in mediastinum and subcutaneous emphysema.
Figure 1: Chest X-ray showing air in soft tissue of neck, upper thorax and bilateral axilla

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Figure 2: Computed tomography thorax showing pneumomediastinum, pneumopericardium, pneumothorax and bullae

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Figure 3: Computed tomography thorax showing air in soft tissue of neck extending lateraly and posteriorly

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Figure 4: Computed tomography head and neck showing air in bilateral paraspinal soft tissue and in extradural space

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The patient was managed conservatively with 100% oxygen inhalation, regular blood gas analysis, broad-spectrum prophylactic antibiotics, analgesic and bed rest in intensive care unit. Progress was uneventful. He was absolutely normal on follow-up examination.

   Discussion Top

Spontaneous pneumomediastinum is a self-limited benign condition that affect young patient with age ranging from 17 and 25 years. [4] The incidence rate is extremely low, with the condition being observed in approximately 1/30,000 hospital admissions. [4] The incidence is rather difficult to evaluate because the disease frequently escapes recognition. [5] The clinical picture may range from asymptomatic to severe or even fatal in some cases. Retrosternal pain is a predominate symptom. [6] The disease is sometimes associated with condition leading to increase in intra-thoracic pressure such as asthma, severe coughing, childbirth, severe vomiting, diabetic ketoacidosis, valsalva maneuver, [7] and inhalational drug abuse like heroin, marijuana, and cocaine. [8]

Spontaneous pneumomediastinum is a rare condition but its association with bilateral pneumothorax and spinal pneumotosis is a much rarer event. The development of bilateral pneumothorax can be explained in two ways. Firstly, because of raised meditational pressure there may be a rupture through the delicate mediastinal fascia and overlying pleura into the pleural space. [9] Another mechanism for pneumothorax following alveolar rupture has been hypothesized, [10] in which air dissect towards the periphery of the lung rather than toward the mediastinum and trapped as sub-pleural blebs/bullae or rupture via sub-pleural blebs/bullae through the visceral surface of the lungs.

High broncho-alveolar pressure results in air leakage into pulmonary perivascular interstitium. The air dissects the path of least resistance into the mediastinum and the fascial planes of the neck causing surgical emphysema. There are no fascial barriers to prevent communication of the posterior mediastinum or retropharyngeal space with the epidural space. So, air continuously communicates via the neural foramina to cause epidural pneumotosis. [11]

To make a diagnosis of spontaneous pneumomediastinum other causes of pneumomediastinum must be ruled out. Other important causes are Boerhaave's syndrome, soft tissue infections of head and neck by gas-producing organisms, trauma, and foreign body. Gastrograffin swallow is recommended to rule out spontaneous esophageal perforation (Boerhaave's syndrome) which is the main differential diagnosis, especially if there is history of forceful vomiting. Standard chest X-ray in 50% cases may miss if it is of small volume. The lateral view is more sensitive and can visualize air in retrosternal space. [12] CT scan is more sensitive than X-ray in detecting free air in mediastinum. Air leaks from the oesophagus may be detected. It demonstrates other associated mediastinal, pleruoparenchymal, and chest abnormalities. In dubious cases, CT constitutes an extremely valuable diagnostic tool.

The treatment of spontaneous pneumomediastinum and its sequlae is mostly conservative and consists of treating underlying causes such as asthma, bed rest, analgesia, 100% oxygen inhalation, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and avoidance of valsalva maneuver. Breathing of 100% oxygen will enhance reabsorption of free air by increasing the gradient of nitrogen between alveoli and tissue. [5] Spontaneous pneumotosis associated with spontaneous pneumomediastinum is benign character therefore does not require special treatment. However, follow up of this rarely seen entity still remains significant because in some cases serious neurologic symptoms like radicular pain and paraplegia may occur. [13]

   Conclusion Top

Spontaneous pneumomediastinum with pneumopericardium, pneumothorax, surgical emphysema, and pneumotosis without any precipitating cause is rare but an important clinical entity which can be diagnosed only with meticulous clinical and radiological examination. Although management is mostly conservative in critical care setting surgical intervention may be required sometimes along with careful follow up.

   References Top

1.Lee YJ, Jin SW, Jang SH, Jang YS, Lee EK, Kim YJ, et al. A case of spontaneous pneumomediastinum and pneumopericardium in a young adult. Korean J Intern Med 2001;16:205-9.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Adya CM, VS, Maurya V, Charan VD, Bairaria AK. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum in an adolescent. MJAFI 2005;61:192-4.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Atalar M, Dogan T, Cevit O, Gumuº C. Epidural pneumorrhachis accompanying to spontaneous pneumomediastinum in a boy: A rare association. Turkish Respiratory Journal 2007;8:60-2.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Lopes FP, Marchiori E, Zanetti G, Silva TF, Herranz LB, Almeida MI. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum following vocal effort: A case report. Radiol Bras 2010;43:137-9.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Chu FKC. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum. Hong Kong J Emerg Med 2002;9(3):168-70.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Shen G, Chai Y. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum in adolescents. Chin Med J (Engl) 2007;120:2329-30.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Smith BA, Ferguson DB. Disposition of spontaneous pneumomediastinum. Am J Emerg Med 1991;9:256-9.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Fajardo LL. Association of spontaneous pneumomediastinum with substance abuse. West J Med 1990;152:301-4.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Dixit R, Shah H, Dixit K, Shah NJ. Pneumomediastinum, simultaneous bilateral spontaneous pneumothorax and subcutaneous emphysema following burn. Lung India 2006;23:154-7.  Back to cited text no. 9
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10.Newton NI, Adams AP. Excessive airway pressure during anaesthesia. Hazards, effects and prevention. Anaesthesia 1978;33:689-99.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Drevelengas A, Kalaitzoglou I, Petridis A. Pneumorrhachis associated with spontaneous pneumomediastinum. Eur J Radiol 1994;18:122-3.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Kim SH, JG, Seo JB, Park JH, Yeon KM, Han MC. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum on CT related condition and its clinical signification. J Korean Radiol Soc 1998;38:459-62.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Ristagno RL, Hiratzka LF, Rost RC Jr. An unusual case of pneumorrhachis following resection of lung carcinoma. Chest 2002;121:1712-4.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

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