Background: The optimal method for removal of chest tubes has not been determined and opinion remains divided. The purpose of this study was to determine the difference between two algorithms for the removal of chest tubes: one with continuous negative intrathoracic pressure (suction group) and the other with a trial of water seal (water-seal group).
Study design: This study was a prospective randomized trial of 80 trauma patients requiring tube thoracostomies.
Results: Both methods of chest tube removal had similar incidences of recurrent pneumothorax (2.5 percent). The suction group had a shorter total chest tube time (72.2 hours versus 92.5 hours, p = 0.013) and shorter time required to remove the chest tube following air leak resolution (25.2 hours versus 35.6 hours, p = 0.034). Additionally, there were more patients requiring prolonged (greater than 36 hours) removal times in the water-seal group (p = 0.009).
Conclusions: Both suction and water-seal methods for chest tube removal are effective and have similar incidences of recurrent pneumothorax. The use of the suction algorithm significantly decreased both chest tube duration and the time taken for chest tube removal. In patients hospitalized for isolated pneumo- or hemothorax, the use of the suction algorithm potentially could lead to shorter length of stay.