We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Are the Most Common Causes of a Widened Mediastinum?

By Jennifer Mackin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The mediastinum is the located in the thoracic cavity between the lungs, and it includes the heart, aorta, thymus gland, trachea and esophagus. When a chest X-ray is taken, the cavity might appear wider than it should. A widened mediastinum can be caused by image distortion from when the X-ray was taken. Other causes can be serious medical issues such as aortic dissection, mediastinal tumors and descending necrotizing mediastinitis.

Chest X-rays can indicate a widened mediastinum without the area truly being enlarged. Sometimes, chest X-rays are ordered for reasons other than possible mediastinum problems. To capture images of certain areas in the chest, a patient might need to be arranged in a position that can make the mediastinum appear to be widened. By taking into consideration why the patient had the X-rays done and how many films were taken, a radiologist should be able to determine whether the condition is a medical concern or an X-ray glitch.

The widening of the mediastinum can be caused by serious medical conditions, such as an aorta dissection. The aorta is a major artery made up of three layers. An aorta dissection happens when the innermost layer, where the blood flows, tears and allows the blood to enter the other layers. This causes the aorta to bulge and potentially to rupture. A widened mediastinum usually is found during an aortography, a procedure in which contrast dye is injected into the patient’s bloodstream before a chest X-ray is performed.

Symptoms of an aorta dissection might mimic those of a heart attack, which can include sudden radiating chest pain. Other signs could be profuse sweating and different pulse rates in the arms. Medical attention should be sought if any of these symptoms occur.

Mediastinal tumors, such as germ cell, lymphoma, thymic cyst and goiters, can also show a widened mediastinum on a chest X-ray. These tumors can be either cancerous or benign. Many people who have a mediastinal tumor might not have any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, it usually is because the tumor is pressing against something. A person who has a mediastinal tumor might experience night sweats, wheezing and shortness of breath.

A rare but potentially fatal condition called descending necrotizing mediastinitis can also cause a widened mediastinum. This condition is caused by the spreading of a head or neck infection to the mediastinum. Tonsillitis, dental abscess and sinusitis can potentially cause descending necrotizing mediastinitis if the infection is not treated. Symptoms include a sore or swollen neck from the spreading infection, fever and shortness of breath. This can be a life-threatening condition, and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
By Phaedrus — On Feb 18, 2014

As uncomfortable as getting an x-ray can be, I'd much rather be called back for a second session than rely on the diagnosis of a widened mediastinum based on the first set of x-rays alone. Those other causes sound so serious that I'd be hoping for an x-ray positioning error the entire time.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.