Mommy Medicine: Fractured ribs common, still dangerous

Mommy Medicine: Fractured ribs common, still dangerous

By Suzanne Carlile, Contributor | Posted - Oct. 10, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The world of health and medicine can be confusing to many parents. But Nurse Suzy is here to help clarify some of the issues that are important to you and your family.

This week's question deals with treating a common but potentially dangerous condition: fractured ribs.


I had some fractured ribs and it is taking a long time for them to heal, is the normal?


Having fractured ribs, also referred to as cracked ribs, is a common yet somewhat dangerous condition. Many people fracture their ribs and do not even know it. It is a very painful injury that hurts more when you breathe deeply — but breathing deeply is exactly what you need to do to prevent further medical conditions.

(A broken rib) is a very painful injury that hurts more when you breathe deeply — but breathing deeply is exactly what you need to do to prevent further medical conditions.

If your ribs are fractured, they will be tender to touch and you'll feel a sharp pain in your chest when you take a deep breath. The most common cause of a fractured rib is a direct blow to the chest, often from a car accident or a fall. Coughing hard can also fracture a rib.

Following a traumatic situation, such as a car accident or fall, a likely suspect of sharp chest pain will be broken ribs. If your ribs were broken during, say, a game of basketball, you may brush the pain off thinking you simply have a bruised chest. Either situation can result in a fracture.

It is important if you suspect broken ribs to consult a doctor first. This condition is worrisome due to the impact it can have on your general health. It will hurt to breathe deep, but not doing so can cause several things to happen: One, it will decrease your oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange causing you to have shortness of breath. Second, because you are not breathing deeply and coughing due to the pain, infection can set in quickly. Third, you could possibly have a collapsed lung, which could turn deadly very fast.

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Treatment is as follows:

  1. Visit a doctor: Make sure you are examined by a doctor to see if your ribs are, in fact, broken. The doctor will also be able to detect any unseen complications.
  2. Rest: Rest your ribs to decrease swelling and allow the injury to heal faster. This may take up to six weeks or longer. Avoid activities which may cause more pain or damage to your ribs.
  3. Medicines:
    • Prescription medication: You may be given prescription medication to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine, and be very careful not to take too much pain medication as this can affect the strength of your breathing. It is a fine line on pain medication. The goal is to decrease pain so you can be active, not remove it completely.
    • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These over-the-counter drugs may help decrease your pain and fever. A fever may indicate infection, so re-visit you doctor to see if need antibiotics to treat the infection.
  4. Humidified air: Using a humidifier will keep the air from getting too dry, which will cause more pain when breathing. The moist air helps your mucus secretions stay thin enough to cough up.
  5. Lung aids: Your caregiver may give you a spirometer, which is a small tube that will help you with deep breathing. He or she may also do chest physiotherapy, which is light hand clapping on your back to help remove lung mucus.
  6. Surgery: If many of your ribs are badly fractured, you may need surgery. If your lung is collapsed you may need a chest tube. Please remember having fractured ribs is very serious condition and you need to take it seriously. Do not delay visiting your doctor. - - - - - -

Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.

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