Spectrum of oesophageal perforations and their influence on management. BJS 2014; 101: 156-162.

Published: 22nd November 2013

Authors: S. Wahed, B. Dent, R. Jones, S. M. Griffin


Oesophageal perforations are associated with high mortality and morbidity rates. A spectrum of aetiologies and clinical presentations has resulted in a variety of operative and non‐operative management strategies. This analysis focused on the impact of these strategies in a single specialist centre.


All patients with oesophageal perforation managed in a single oesophagogastric unit in the UK between January 2002 and December 2012 were identified. Gastric perforations and anastomotic leaks were excluded. Data were verified using an endoscopy database, electronic and paper records. Aetiology of perforation, management and outcomes were analysed.


There were 101 adult patients with oesophageal perforation. Complete records were not available for five patients and they were excluded from the analysis. The median age was 69·5 years. Thoracic perforations were present in 84 per cent of patients. There were 51 spontaneous perforations, 41 iatrogenic and four related to foreign bodies. Oesophageal malignancy was present in 11 patients. Forty‐four patients were managed surgically, 47 without operation and five patients were considered unfit for active treatment. The in‐hospital mortality rate for treated patients was 24 per cent and median length of hospital stay was 31·5 days.


The management of oesophageal perforation requires specialist multidisciplinary input. It is best provided in an environment familiar with the range of treatment modalities. Management decisions should be guided primarily by the degree of contamination rather than the aetiology of the defect. The routine use of stents is unproven and controversial.

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