Chest Tube Size Selection: Evaluating Provider Practices, Treatment Efficacy, and Complications in Management of Thoracic Trauma

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The American Surgeon


BACKGROUND: The standard for managing traumatic pneumothorax (PTX), hemothorax (HTX), and hemopneumothorax (HPTX) has historically been large-bore (LB) chest tubes ( > 20-Fr). Previous studies have shown equal efficacy of small-bore (SB) chest tubes ( ≤ 19-Fr) in draining PTX and HTX/HPTX. This study aimed to evaluate provider practice patterns, treatment efficacy, and complications related to the selection of chest tube sizes for patients with thoracic trauma. METHODS: A retrospective chart review was performed on adult patients who underwent tube thoracostomy for traumatic PTX, HTX, or HPTX at a Level 1 Trauma Center from January 2016 to December 2021. Comparison was made between SB and LB thoracostomy tubes. The primary outcome was indication for chest tube placement based on injury pattern. Secondary outcomes included retained hemothorax, insertion-related complications, and duration of chest tube placement. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed. RESULTS: Three hundred and forty-one patients were included and 297 (87.1%) received LB tubes. No significant differences were found between the groups concerning tube failure and insertion-related complications. LB tubes were more frequently placed in patients with penetrating MOI, higher average ISS, and higher average thoracic AIS. Patients who received LB chest tubes experienced a higher incidence of retained HTX. DISCUSSION: In patients with thoracic trauma, both SB and LB chest tubes may be used for treatment. SB tubes are typically placed in nonemergent situations, and there is apparent provider bias for LB tubes. A future randomized clinical trial is needed to provide additional data on the usage of SB tubes in emergent situations.

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