n South African Medical Journal - Case report - on your toes : detecting mediastinal air on the chest radiograph in ecstasy abusers : in practice

Volume 106, Issue 5
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



Abnormal mediastinal air may be caused by inhalational illicit drug use subsequent to barotrauma resulting from coughing after deep inhalation and breath holding. It may also arise from oesophageal rupture due to retching after ingestion of the illicit drug. The history can alert the practitioner to this cause of chest pain. As chest radiographs are widely accessible and mediastinal air is easily recognisable, the chest radiograph should be included and carefully scrutinised in the diagnostic workup of chest pain in the recreational drug abuser. It is prudent to exclude oesophageal rupture, particularly in the setting of retching, before deciding on conservative and expectant management.

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