Small-bore wire-guided chest drains: safety, tolerability, and effectiveness in pneumothorax, malignant effusions, and pleural empyema

Stefano Cafarotti, Valentina Dall'Armi, Giacomo Cusumano, Stefano Margaritora, Elisa Meacci, F Lococo, M L Vita, V Porziella, S Bonassi, Alfredo Cesario, Pierluigi Granone
Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery 2011, 141 (3): 683-7

BACKGROUND: The use of small-bore wire-guided chest drains for pleural effusions and pneumothorax has become popular; however, limited data are available on its efficacy and morbidity. The aim of this retrospective study is to measure, via the analysis of the so far largest reported cohort, the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of this approach in different clinical conditions.

METHODS: In the period from January 2002 to December 2008, 1092 patients have undergone the positioning of a small-bore wire-guided chest drain (12F) for the evidence of pneumothorax or pleural effusion and have been monitored over time for morbidity, pain at the time of insertion (measured via the visual analogue scale), and drain failure for misplacement or blockage. Patients with trauma were excluded from this study.

RESULTS: Male/female ratio and mean age were respectively 418:674 and 55.85 ± 18.6. Three-hundred ninety-nine (36.5%) drains were inserted for pneumothorax, 324 (29.7%) for malignant effusion, 97 (8.9%) for empyema, and 272 (24.9%) for nonmalignant effusion. The pain experience was on average "very mild" (mean visual analogue scale = 4.6 mm). The overall drain failure rate was 12.9%. The percentage of successful cases was 93.8% in malignant effusion, 93% in pneumothorax, and 92.3% in nonmalignant effusion; in the cases of pathologically diagnosed empyema, drains were more likely to get blocked (74.2%). We recorded 1 serious complication within the malignant effusion group.

CONCLUSIONS: Wire-guided 12F Seldinger-type drains are a well-tolerated and effective method of treating pneumothorax and uncomplicated pleural effusions (malignant and nonmalignant) with acceptable morbidity. The use of 12F small-bore chest drain is not indicated for the treatment of empyema.

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