• Sixty-nine patients with perforation of the esophagus were treated at the University of California, San Francisco, from 1977 to 1988. The perforation was iatrogenic in 33 (48%) of the patients, spontaneous in 8 (12%), and a result of external trauma in 23 (33%). Clinical findings included chest pain in 36 (52%) of 69 patients, subcutaneous emphysema in 22 (32%) of 59 patients, and pneumomediastinum in 21 (36%) of 59 patients. Esophagograms demonstrated the perforation in 40 (93%) of 43 patients. Treatment delays of more than 24 hours occurred in about half of spontaneous and iatrogenic perforations, but when the perforation was due to external trauma, treatment was delayed infrequently. Operative therapy in 59 (86%) of the patients included primary closure in 44 patients, drainage alone in 9 patients, and Celestin tube placement in 1 patient. Four patients with benign strictures had esophagectomy, and 4 patients with achalasia had Heller myotomy in addition to closure of the perforation. Eight (12%) of the patients were treated nonoperatively. For thoracic perforations, nonoperative treatment was reserved for patients who were diagnosed late but who had minimal evidence of sepsis. Seven (10%) of the patients died. Factors that influenced outcome included cause of perforation, anatomic location, and patient age. Our study shows that a high index of suspicion, aggressive use of esophagography, and individualized treatment are necessary for the best results when treating esophageal perforation.
(Arch Surg. 1989;124:1211-1215)