Management of emergency department patients with primary spontaneous pneumothorax: needle aspiration or tube thoracostomy?

Ann Emerg Med. 2008 Jan;51(1):91-100, 100.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2007.06.009. Epub 2007 Sep 29.


Study objective: The emergency management of primary spontaneous pneumothorax is controversial. This evidence-based emergency medicine review evaluates the existing evidence about the efficacy and safety of needle aspiration in comparison to tube thoracostomy for management of primary spontaneous pneumothorax.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, and other databases. We selected studies for inclusion in the review if the authors stated that they had randomly assigned hemodynamically stable patients with no underlying lung disease to needle aspiration or tube thoracostomy. The outcome measures of interest included admission rate, length of hospital stay, recurrence rate, failure rate of the procedure, dyspnea score during or after the procedure, pain score during or after the procedure, and complications.

Results: Three randomized trials with acceptable quality standards met the inclusion criteria. There was no significant difference between needle aspiration and tube thoracostomy when outcomes of immediate failure, 1-week failure, risk of complication, and 1-year recurrence rate were measured. Only 2 trials reported the rate of hospitalization; needle aspiration was associated with lower rates of hospitalization in both trials: relative risks of 0.26 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.17 to 0.39) and 0.51 (95% CI 0.36 to 0.74). Length of hospital stay was lower in the needle aspiration groups in all 3 trials, with mean differences of -2.15 days (95% CI -0.99 to -3.30), -2.10 days (95% CI -0.57 to -3.63), and -1.10 days (95% CI -2.28 to 0.08), respectively. Needle aspiration was associated with less analgesia requirement in one trial and lower pain scores in another.

Conclusion: The existing evidence indicates that needle aspiration is at least as safe and effective as tube thoracostomy for management of primary spontaneous pneumothorax. Additionally, needle aspiration carries the benefit of fewer hospital admissions and shorter length of hospital stay.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle* / adverse effects
  • Chest Tubes
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Pneumothorax / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Recurrence
  • Risk
  • Thoracostomy* / adverse effects