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14 French pigtail catheters placed by surgeons to drain blood on trauma patients: is 14-Fr too small?

BACKGROUND: Small 14F pigtail catheters (PCs) have been shown to drain air quite well in patients with traumatic pneumothorax (PTX). But their effectiveness in draining blood in patients with traumatic hemothorax (HTX) or hemopneumothorax (HPTX) is unknown. We hypothesized that 14F PCs can drain blood as well as large-bore 32F to 40F chest tubes. We herein report our early case series experience with PCs in the management of traumatic HTX and HPTX.

METHODS: We prospectively collected data on all bedside-inserted PCs in patients with traumatic HTX or HPTX during a 30-month period (July 2009 through December 2011) at our Level I trauma center. We then compared our PC prospective data with our trauma registry-derived retrospective chest tube data (January 2008 through December 2010) at our center. Our primary outcome of interest was the initial drainage output. Our secondary outcomes were tube duration, insertion-related complications, and failure rate. For our statistical analysis, we used the unpaired Student's t-test, χ test, and Wilcoxon rank-sum test; we defined significance by a value of p < 0.05.

RESULTS: A total of 36 patients received PCs, and 191 received chest tubes. Our PC group had a higher rate of blunt mechanism injuries than our chest tube group did (83 vs. 62%; p = 0.01). The mean initial output was similar between our PC group (560 ± 81 mL) and our chest tube group (426 ± 37 mL) (p = 0.13). In the PC group, the tube was inserted later (median, Day 1; interquartile range, Days 0-3) than the tube inserted in our chest tube group (median, Day 0; interquartile range, Days 0-0) (p < 0.001). Tube duration, rate of insertion-related complications, and failure rate were all similar.

CONCLUSION: In our early experience, 14F PCs seemed to drain blood as well as large-bore chest tubes based on initial drainage output and other outcomes studied. In this early phase, we were being selective in inserting PCs in only stable blunt trauma patients, and PCs were inserted at a later day from the time of the initial evaluation. In the future, we will need a larger sample size and possibly a well-designed prospective study.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic study, level V.

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