Background: Sudden onset of respiratory failure is one of the most fearful manifestations in intensive care units. Among the differential diagnoses of respiratory failure, tension pneumothorax is a life-threatening disease that requires immediate invasive intervention to drain the air from the thoracic cavity. However, other etiologies with manifestations similar to those of tension pneumothorax should also be considered after whole-stomach esophagectomy for esophageal cancer. We report a rare case of a patient with thoracic stomach syndrome mimicking tension pneumothorax after esophagectomy with whole-stomach reconstruction. Case presentation: A 49-year-old Asian woman was admitted to our intensive care unit after esophagectomy for esophageal cancer with whole-stomach reconstruction while under sedation and intubated. Despite initial stable vital signs, the patient rapidly developed tachypnea, low blood pressure, and low oxygen saturation. Chest radiography revealed a mediastinal shift and led to a presumptive diagnosis of tension pneumothorax. Hence, an aspiration catheter was inserted into the right pleural space. However, her clinical symptoms did not improve. Chest computed tomography was performed, which revealed a significantly distended reconstructed stomach that was compressing the nearby lung parenchyma. Her respiration improved immediately after nasogastric tube placement. After the procedure, we successfully extubated the patient. Conclusions: Similar to tension pneumothorax, thoracic stomach syndrome requires immediate drainage of air from the thoracic cavity. However, unlike tension pneumothorax, this condition requires nasogastric tube insertion, which is the only way to safely remove the accumulated air and avoid possible complications that could occur due to percutaneous drainage. For patient safety, it might be clinically important to place nasogastric tubes after esophagectomy with whole-stomach reconstruction, even if radiographic guidance is required. In addition, clinicians should consider thoracic stomach syndrome as one of the differential diagnoses of respiratory failure after whole-stomach esophagectomy.
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