A Systematic Review of Digital vs Analog Drainage for Air Leak After Surgical Resection or Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Chest. 2020 May;157(5):1346-1353. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2019.11.046. Epub 2020 Jan 17.


Background: The concerns regarding air leak after lung surgery or spontaneous pneumothorax include detection and duration. Prior studies have suggested that digital drainage systems permit shorter chest tube duration and hospital length of stay (LOS) by earlier detection of air leak cessation. We conducted a systematic review to assess the impact of digital drainage on chest tube duration and hospital LOS after pulmonary surgery and spontaneous pneumothorax.

Methods: Ovid MEDLINE, PubMed, Embase, the Cochrane Library, Scopus, and Google Scholar were searched from inception through January 2019. We included randomized controlled trials, cohort studies, and case series of adult patients, using digital or traditional drainage devices for air leaks of either postsurgical or spontaneous pneumothorax origin.

Results: Of 1,272 references reviewed, 23 articles were included. Nineteen articles addressed postoperative air leak, and four articles pertained to air leak after spontaneous pneumothorax. Thirteen studies were randomized controlled trials. Digital drainage resulted in significantly shorter chest tube duration in eight of 18 studies and shorter hospital LOS in six of 14 studies for postoperative air leak. For postpneumothorax air leak, digital drainage resulted in significantly shorter chest tube duration in two of three studies and hospital LOS in one of two studies with an analog control group.

Conclusions: Most studies show no significant differences in chest tube duration and hospital LOS with digital vs analog drainage systems for patients with air leak after pulmonary resection. For post-spontaneous pneumothorax air leak, the limited published evidence suggests shorter chest tube duration and hospital LOS with digital drainage systems.

Keywords: air leak; analog drainage; digital drainage; spontaneous pneumothorax; surgical lung resection.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chest Tubes
  • Drainage / methods*
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Pneumonectomy / adverse effects*
  • Pneumothorax / etiology*
  • Pneumothorax / surgery*