How serious is a broken rib for a diabetic?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Broken rib on mother with type 2 diabetis. She is 83 years old. How serious is this? What can the complications be?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Broken ribs can occur during an injury, such as a fall, car accident or a sports injury. Ribs that have really broken in two can cause initial damage to a blood vessel or lung, which would cause emergent shortness of breath. However, most broken ribs are just cracked, not really separated in two. So, while it can cause pain, it is not really life threatening.

Broken ribs usually heal in a couple of months. Since they can be painful, especially with deep breaths, laughing or coughing, your mother may need some pain medication for a while. It is important that she continues to take deep breaths a few times every hour so that she can avoid pneumonia, which can happen if you do not fully expand your lungs enough. Good luck!