Medical Definition of Buffalo chest

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/21/2018

Buffalo chest: A single chest cavity with no anatomic separation of the two hemithoraxes due, for example, to tension pneumothorax (air under pressure collapsing a lung). It is called buffalo chest because this anatomical peculiarity of the North American buffalo, or bison, helped the Indians of the Great Plains to kill them. A single Indian arrow to the chest frequently was enough to let air in to collapse both lungs and fell the breathless bison.

The use of the term "buffalo chest" came to medical attention through a 2003 report in The New England Journal of Medicine. However, the term dates back at least to 1984, as indicated by the report by GR Schorlemmer and others entitled "Bilateral pneumothoraces secondary to latrogenic buffalo chest" (Ann Surg. 1984;199:372-4). When the term was originally introduced into medicine is not known.

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Reviewed on 12/21/2018