Comparing complications of small-bore chest tubes to large-bore chest tubes in the setting of delayed hemothorax: a retrospective multicenter cohort study

Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2020 Jun 22;28(1):56. doi: 10.1186/s13049-020-00754-5.


Background: Previous studies have provided initial data suggesting that small-bore (SB, ≤ 14Fr) chest tubes have the same efficacy as large-bore (LB, > 14 Fr) chest tubes for acute hemothorax (HTX), but data continue to be lacking in the setting of delayed HTX. This study compared complications of SB chest tubes to LB tubes in patients with delayed HTX.

Methods: This was a retrospective observational study across 7.5 yrs. at 6 Level 1 trauma centers. Patients were included if 1) diagnosed with a HTX or > 1 rib fracture with bloody effusion from chest tube; 2) initial chest tube placed ≥36 h of hospital admission. Patients were excluded for hemopneumothoraces. The primary endpoint was having at least one of the following chest tube complications: tube replacement, VATS, tube falling out, tube clogging, pneumonia, retained HTX, pleural empyema. Secondary outcomes included chest tube output volume and drainage rate. Dependent/independent and parametric/non-parametric analyses were used to assess primary and secondary outcomes.

Results: There were 160 SB patients (191 tubes) and 60 LB patients (72 tubes). Both comparison groups were similar in multiple demographic, injury, clinical features. The median (IQR) tube size for each group was as follows: SB [12 Fr (12-14)] and LB [32 Fr (28-32)]. The risk of having at least one chest tube complication was similar for LB and SB chest tubes (14% vs. 18%, p = 0.42). LB tubes had significantly larger risk of VATS, while SB tubes had significantly higher risk of pneumonia. SB tubes had significantly slower least squares (LS) mean initial output drainage rate compared to LB tubes (52.2 vs. 213.4 mL/hour, p < 0.001), but a non-parametric analysis suggested no significant difference in median drainage rates between groups 39.7 [23.5-242.0] mL/hr. vs. 38.6 [27.5-53.8], p = 0.81. LB and SB groups had similar initial output volume (738.0 mL vs. 810.9, p = 0.59).

Conclusions: There was no clearly superior chest tube diameter size; both chest tube sizes demonstrated risks and benefits. Clinicians must be aware of these potential tradeoffs when deciding on the diameter of chest tube for the treatment of delayed HTXs.

Keywords: Chest tube; Complications; Hemothorax; Large-bore; Small-bore.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chest Tubes / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drainage
  • Equipment Design
  • Female
  • Hemothorax / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Trauma Centers
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult