Ultrasound Investigation of the Fifth Intercostal Space Landmark for Chest Tube Thoracostomy Site Selection in Pediatric Patients

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2024 Apr 23. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000003207. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Chest tube thoracostomy site selection is typically chosen through landmark identification of the fifth intercostal space (ICS). Using point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS), studies have shown this site to be potentially unsafe in many adults; however, no study has evaluated this in children. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the safety of the fifth ICS for pediatric chest tube placement, with the secondary aim to identify patient factors that correlate with an unsafe fifth ICS.

Methods: This was an observational study using POCUS to evaluate the safety of the fifth ICS for chest tube thoracostomy placement using a convenience sample of pediatric emergency department patients. Safety was defined as the absence of the diaphragm appearing within or above the fifth ICS during either tidal or maximal respiration. Univariate and multivariable analyses were used to identify patient factors that correlated with an unsafe fifth ICS.

Results: Among all patients, 10.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] 6.45-16.1) of diaphragm measurements crossed into or above the fifth ICS during tidal respiration and 27.2% (95% CI 19.0-37.3) during maximal respiration. The diaphragm crossed the fifth ICS more frequently on the right when compared with the left, with an overall rate of 45.0% (95% CI 36.1-54.3) of right diaphragms crossing during maximal respiration. In both univariate and multivariate analyses, a 1-kg/m2 increase in body mass index was associated with an increase of 10% or more in the odds of crossing during both tidal and maximal respiration (P = 0.003 or less).

Conclusions: A significant number of pediatric patients have diaphragms that cross into or above the fifth ICS, suggesting that placement of a chest tube thoracostomy at this site would pose a significant complication risk. POCUS can quickly and accurately identify these unsafe sites, and we recommend it be used before pediatric chest tube thoracostomy.