Salvage for unsuccessful aspiration of primary pneumothorax: thoracoscopic surgery or chest tube drainage?

Ann Thorac Surg. 2008 Jun;85(6):1908-13. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2008.02.038.


Background: Simple aspiration is recommended as first-line treatment for all primary spontaneous pneumothoraces requiring intervention. However, the optimal salvage treatment remains unclear when simple aspiration is unsuccessful for controlling symptoms. In this study, the safety, efficacy, and estimated costs of video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and chest tube drainage (CTD) were compared.

Methods: Between 2002 and 2007, 164 patients with a first episode of spontaneous pneumothorax were managed by simple aspiration. Among them, 52 patients underwent subsequent VATS (30 patients) or CTD (22 patients) due to unsuccessful aspiration. The demographic data and treatment outcomes of the two groups were collected through retrospective chart review.

Results: Postoperative analgesics use did not differ between groups. Complications developed in 2 of the VATS group (6.7%) and 6 of the CTD group (27.3%), with mean hospital stays of 4.8 and 6.1 days, respectively (p = 0.034). Patients in the VATS group had lower rates of overall failure, although the rates of immediate failure were not significantly different. After a mean follow-up of 16 months, recurrent ipsilateral pneumothorax was noted in 1 VATS patient and 5 CTD individuals (p = 0.038). The estimated total costs per patient were $1,273 in the VATS group and $865 in the CTD group.

Conclusions: Although associated with higher costs, VATS rather than CTD is the preferred salvage treatment for unsuccessful aspiration of the first episode of primary spontaneous pneumothorax, because of shorter hospital stay and lower rates of overall failure and recurrence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chest Tubes* / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology
  • Pneumothorax / surgery*
  • Reoperation
  • Suction* / economics
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted* / economics
  • Treatment Failure
  • Treatment Outcome