Efficacy and complications of percutaneous pigtail catheters for thoracostomy in pediatric patients

Chest. 1998 Oct;114(4):1116-21. doi: 10.1378/chest.114.4.1116.


Objective: To describe the efficacy of percutaneous pigtail catheters in evacuating pleural air or fluid in pediatric patients.

Design: A case series of children with percutaneous pigtail catheters placed in the pediatric ICU between January 1996 and August 1997.

Setting: Urban pediatric teaching hospital in Seattle, WA.

Methods: A retrospective chart review.

Results: Ninety-one children required 133 chest catheters. Most patients were infants with congenital heart disease (80%). One hundred thirteen of the catheters (85%) were placed for pleural effusion, with 20 tubes (15%) placed for pneumothorax. Efficacy of drainage of pleural fluid was significantly greater in serous (96%) and chylous (100%) effusions compared with empyema (0%) or hemothorax (81%). Evacuation of pneumothorax was achieved by a pigtail catheter in 75% of patients. Resolution of pleural air or pneumothorax was significantly greater in patients < 10 kg compared with larger children. Complications due to placement of the pigtail catheters included hemothorax (n=3, 2%), pneumothorax (n=3, 2%), and hepatic perforation (n= 1, 1%). There were also complications arising from the use of the catheters, including failure to drain, dislodgment, kinking, loss of liquid ventilation fluid, empyema, and disconnection in 27 of 133 catheters (20%). Significantly more complications during catheter use occurred in patients <5 kg than in larger children.

Conclusions: Percutaneous pigtail catheters are highly effective in drainage of pleural serous and chylous effusions, somewhat less efficacious in drainage of hemothorax or pneumothorax, and least efficacious in drainage of empyema. Infants and smaller children had higher rates of resolution of pleural air and fluid from placement of a pigtail catheter than larger children. Complications from catheter placement were uncommon (5%) but serious, whereas complications associated with continued use of the catheters were more common (20%) but less grave. Strict attention to anatomic landmarks and close monitoring may reduce the number of complications.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chest Tubes*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Equipment Failure
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / complications
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnostic imaging
  • Pleural Effusion / etiology
  • Pleural Effusion / therapy*
  • Pneumothorax / diagnostic imaging
  • Pneumothorax / etiology
  • Pneumothorax / therapy*
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnostic imaging
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Safety
  • Thoracostomy / instrumentation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urban Population