Thoracic cavity

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Thoracic cavity
Latin Cavitas thoracis, cavum thoracis
MeSH D035423
TA A01.1.00.049
FMA 7565
Anatomical terminology
The picture displays the Mediastinum on sagittal plane, Thoracic diaphragm at the bottom, the heart (Cor), behind Sternum and Costae (to the left on the picture (This is the Anterior (front))) and to the right (Posterior (back)) you have the Thoracic vertebrae. Gray846.png
The picture displays the Mediastinum on sagittal plane, Thoracic diaphragm at the bottom, the heart (Cor), behind Sternum and Costae (to the left on the picture (This is the Anterior (front))) and to the right (Posterior (back)) you have the Thoracic vertebrae.

The thoracic cavity (or chest cavity) is the chamber of the body of vertebrates that is protected by the thoracic wall (rib cage and associated skin, muscle, and fascia). The central compartment of the thoracic cavity is the mediastinum. There are two openings of the thoracic cavity, a superior thoracic aperture known as the thoracic inlet and a lower inferior thoracic aperture known as the thoracic outlet.

Body cavity fluid-filled space in a multicellular organism

A body cavity is any fluid-filled space in a multicellular organism other than those of vessels. The human body cavity normally refers to the ventral body cavity, because it is by far the largest.

Thoracic wall

The thoracic wall or chest wall is the boundary of the thoracic cavity.

Rib cage arrangement of bones

The rib cage is the arrangement of ribs attached to the vertebral column and sternum in the thorax of most vertebrates, that encloses and protects the heart and lungs. In humans, the rib cage, also known as the thoracic cage, is a bony and cartilaginous structure which surrounds the thoracic cavity and supports the shoulder girdle to form the core part of the human skeleton. A typical human rib cage consists of 24 ribs in 12 pairs, the sternum and xiphoid process, the costal cartilages, and the 12 thoracic vertebrae.


The thoracic cavity includes the tendons as well as the cardiovascular system which could be damaged from injury to the back, spine or the neck.


Structures within the thoracic cavity include:

Heart organ for the circulation of blood in animal circulatory systems

The heart is a muscular organ in most animals, which pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. Blood provides the body with oxygen and nutrients, as well as assisting in the removal of metabolic wastes. In humans, the heart is located between the lungs, in the middle compartment of the chest.

Aorta largest artery in the body

The aorta is the main and largest artery in the human body, originating from the left ventricle of the heart and extending down to the abdomen, where it splits into two smaller arteries. The aorta distributes oxygenated blood to all parts of the body through the systemic circulation.

Pulmonary artery artery in the pulmonary circulation that carries deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs

A pulmonary artery is an artery in the pulmonary circulation that carries deoxygenated blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The largest pulmonary artery is the main pulmonary artery. or pulmonary trunk from the heart, and the smallest ones are the arterioles, which lead to the capillaries that surround the pulmonary alveoli.

It contains three potential spaces lined with mesothelium: the paired pleural cavities and the pericardial cavity. The mediastinum comprises those organs which lie in the centre of the chest between the lungs. The cavity also contains two openings one at the top, the superior thoracic aperture also called the thoracic inlet, and a lower inferior thoracic aperture which is much larger than the inlet.

Mesothelium membrane composed of simple squamous epithelium that forms the lining of several body cavities: the pleura (thoracic cavity), peritoneum (abdominal cavity including the mesentery), mediastinum and pericardium (heart sac)

The mesothelium is a membrane composed of simple squamous epithelium that forms the lining of several body cavities: the pleura, peritoneum, mediastinum and pericardium. Mesothelial tissue also surrounds the male internal reproductive organs and covers the internal reproductive organs of women. Mesothelium that covers the internal organs is called visceral mesothelium, while the layer that covers the body walls is called the parietal mesothelium. Mesothelium is the epithelial component of serosa.

Pleural cavity thin fluid-filled space between the two pulmonary pleurae (visceral and parietal) of each lung

The pleural cavity is the thin fluid-filled space between the two pulmonary pleurae of each lung. A pleura is a serous membrane which folds back onto itself to form a two-layered membranous pleural sac. The outer pleura is attached to the chest wall, but is separated from it by the endothoracic fascia. The inner pleura covers the lungs and adjoining structures, including blood vessels, bronchi and nerves. The pleural cavity can be viewed as a potential space because the two pleurae adhere to each other under all normal conditions. Parietal pleura projects up to 2.5 cm above the junction of the middle and medial third of the clavicle

Pericardium double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the great vessels

The pericardium is a double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the great vessels. The pericardial sac has two layers, a serous layer and a fibrous layer. It encloses the pericardial cavity which contains pericardial fluid.

Clinical significance

If the pleural cavity is breached from the outside, as by a bullet wound or knife wound, a pneumothorax, or air in the cavity, may result. If the volume of air is significant, one or both lungs may collapse, which requires immediate medical attention.

Pneumothorax abnormal collection of air in the pleural space that causes an uncoupling of the lung from the chest wall

A pneumothorax is an abnormal collection of air in the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall. Symptoms typically include sudden onset of sharp, one-sided chest pain and shortness of breath. In a minority of cases the amount of air in the chest increases when a one-way valve is formed by an area of damaged tissue, leading to a tension pneumothorax. This condition can cause a steadily worsening oxygen shortage and low blood pressure. Unless reversed by effective treatment, it can result in death. Very rarely both lungs may be affected by a pneumothorax. It is often called a collapsed lung, although that term may also refer to atelectasis.

Additional images

See also

Related Research Articles

Thorax frontal part of an animals body, between its head and abdomen

The thorax or chest is a part of the anatomy of humans and various other animals located between the neck and the abdomen. The thorax includes the thoracic cavity and the thoracic wall. It contains organs including the heart, lungs, and thymus gland, as well as muscles and various other internal structures. Many diseases may affect the chest, and one of the most common symptoms is chest pain.

Thoracic duct

In human anatomy, the thoracic duct is the larger of the two lymph ducts of the lymphatic system. It is also known as the left lymphatic duct, alimentary duct, chyliferous duct, and Van Hoorne's canal. The other duct is the right lymphatic duct. It carries chyle, a liquid containing both lymph and emulsified fats, rather than pure lymph. Thus when it ruptures, the resulting flood of liquid into the pleural cavity is known as chylothorax.

Thoracic diaphragm sheet of internal skeletal muscle

The thoracic diaphragm, or simply the diaphragm, is a sheet of internal skeletal muscle in humans and other mammals that extends across the bottom of the thoracic cavity. The diaphragm separates the thoracic cavity, containing the heart and lungs, from the abdominal cavity and performs an important function in respiration: as the diaphragm contracts, the volume of the thoracic cavity increases, a negative vacuum is created which draws air into the lungs.

Azygos vein

The azygos vein is a vein running up the side of the thoracic vertebral column draining itself towards the superior vena cava. It connects the systems of superior vena cava and inferior vena cava and can provide an alternative path for blood to the right atrium when either of the venae cavae is blocked.

Thoracotomy incision into the pleural space of the chest

A thoracotomy is a surgical procedure to gain access into the pleural space of the chest. It is performed by surgeons to gain access to the thoracic organs, most commonly the heart, the lungs, or the esophagus, or for access to the thoracic aorta or the anterior spine. The purpose of a thoracotomy is the first step used to facilitate thoracic surgeries including lobectomy or pneumonectomy for lung cancer or to gain thoracic access in major trauma.

Mediastinum central compartment of the thoracic cavity that separates the lungs

The mediastinum is the central compartment of the thoracic cavity surrounded by loose connective tissue, as an undelineated region that contains a group of structures within the thorax. The mediastinum contains the heart and its vessels, the esophagus, the trachea, the phrenic and cardiac nerves, the thoracic duct, the thymus and the lymph nodes of the central chest.

Chest radiograph

A chest radiograph, colloquially called a chest X-ray (CXR), or chest film, is a projection radiograph of the chest used to diagnose conditions affecting the chest, its contents, and nearby structures. Chest radiographs are the most common film taken in medicine.

Thoracic inlet

The thoracic inlet, also known as the superior thoracic aperture, refers to the opening at the top of the thoracic cavity. It is also clinically referred to as the thoracic outlet, in the case of thoracic outlet syndrome; this refers to the superior thoracic aperture, and not to the lower, larger opening, the inferior thoracic aperture.

Thoracic outlet

The thoracic outlet is the lower opening of the thoracic cavity whose edges are the lowest ribs. It is closed by the diaphragm, which separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. The thoracic outlet or inferior thoracic aperture is much larger than the thoracic inlet.


Pneumomediastinum is pneumatosis in the mediastinum. First described in 1819 by René Laennec, the condition can result from physical trauma or other situations that lead to air escaping from the lungs, airways, or bowel into the chest cavity.

Root of the lung

The root of the lung is located at the hilum of each lung, just above the middle of the mediastinal surface and behind the cardiac impression of the lung. It is nearer to the back than the front. The root of the lung is connected by the structures that form it to the heart and the trachea. The rib cage is separated from the lung by a two-layered membranous coating, the pleura. The hilum is the large triangular depression where the connection between the parietal pleura and the visceral pleura is made, and this marks the meeting point between the mediastinum and the pleural cavities.

Bronchopulmonary segment

A bronchopulmonary segment is a portion of lung supplied by a specific tertiary bronchus and arteries. These arteries branch from the pulmonary and bronchial arteries, and run together through the center of the segment. Veins and lymphatic vessels drain along the edges of the segment. The segments are separated from each other by layers of connective tissue. Each bronchopulmonary segment is a discrete anatomical and functional unit, and this separation means that a bronchopulmonary segment can be surgically removed without affecting the function of the others.

Tracheobronchial lymph nodes

The tracheobronchial lymph nodes are lymp nodes that are located around the division of trachea and main bronchi.

Outline of human anatomy scientific study of the morphology of the human body

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to human anatomy:

Pulmonary laceration chest injury in which lung tissue is torn or cut

A pulmonary laceration is a chest injury in which lung tissue is torn or cut. An injury that is potentially more serious than pulmonary contusion, pulmonary laceration involves disruption of the architecture of the lung, while pulmonary contusion does not. Pulmonary laceration is commonly caused by penetrating trauma but may also result from forces involved in blunt trauma such as shear stress. A cavity filled with blood, air, or both can form. The injury is diagnosed when collections of air or fluid are found on a CT scan of the chest. Surgery may be required to stitch the laceration, to drain blood, or even to remove injured parts of the lung. The injury commonly heals quickly with few problems if it is given proper treatment; however it may be associated with scarring of the lung or other complications.

Intrapleural perfusion of hyperthermic (heated) chemotherapy (ITH) is part of a surgical strategy employed in the treatment of various pleural malignancies. The pleura in this situation could be considered to include the surface linings of the chest wall, lungs, mediastinum, and diaphragm. ITH is the chest counterpart of HIPEC. Traditionally used in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, a primary malignancy of the pleura, more recent application of this modality to the treatment of secondary pleural malignancies has been more promising.

Pulmonary pleurae serous membrane that lines the wall of thoracic cavity and the surface of lung

The pulmonary pleurae are the two pleurae of the invaginated sac surrounding each lung and attaching to the thoracic cavity. The visceral pleura is the delicate serous membrane that covers the surface of each lung and dips into the fissures between the lobes. The parietal pleura is the outer membrane which is attached to the inner surface of the thoracic cavity. It also separates the pleural cavity from the mediastinum. The parietal pleura is innervated by the intercostal nerves and the phrenic nerve.


  1. Eskandarlou, M.; Moaddab, A. H. (2010). "Chest wall necrosis and empyema resulting from attempting suicide by injection of petroleum into the pleural cavity". Emergency Medicine Journal. 27 (8): 616–8. doi:10.1136/emj.2009.073486. PMID   20558490.