A hemithorax is one side of the chest. The thorax is the medical term for the chest area, and hemithorax indicates only one half of the chest. The plural for this medical term is hemithoraxes or hemithoraces. The hemithoraces are made up of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. It holds and provides protection to vital organs in the chest, such as the lungs and heart.
The thorax is the chest area of the body, positioned between the neck and abdomen. The boundaries of this region are drawn by the ribs, sternum, and the thoracic vertebrae, also known as the dorsal vertebrae. The thoracic vertebrae are the 12 segments between the cervical vertebrae, which are the first seven vertebrae in the neck and the lumbar vertebrae, which include five vertebrae in the curved portion of the lower back.
Each hemithorax serves as a home and protection for the organs in the chest. These organs include the lungs, heart, and part of the aorta, which are key aspects of the circulatory and respiratory systems. The lungs facilitate breathing and provide oxygen to the blood. The heart pumps and filters blood to the rest of the body, and the aorta is the largest artery in the body, providing a path by which blood reaches other vital organs.
The left hemithorax contains both the heart and the left lung. The left lung is smaller than the right lung because it has to make room for the heart. The right lung is basically alone in the right hemithorax and so can take up more space. In some rare cases, other organs are displaced in the thorax.
When there is no separation between the hemithoraxes, it is called a buffalo chest. The term buffalo chest first gained popularity in a 2003 report in The New England Journal of Medicine. This condition is often caused by tension pneumothorax, which is a collapsed lung due to air under pressure. The term buffalo chest is in reference to North American buffalo, which were often taken down by a single Indian arrow to the chest, collapsing the lungs of the beast.
Another common problem affecting the hemithoraxes is hemothorax. Hemothorax occurs when blood collects between the lung and the chest wall. It is most often caused by blunt trauma to the chest, but may also be caused by blood clotting, cancer, or tuberculosis. Symptoms of hemothorax include anxiety, chest pain, and rapid heart rate.