A chest tube is a hollow, flexible tube placed into the chest. It acts as a drain.
When your chest tube is inserted, you will lie on your side or sit partly upright, with one arm over your head.
After your chest tube insertion, you will have a chest x-ray to make sure the tube is in the right place.
The chest tube usually stays in place until x-rays show that all the blood, fluid, or air has drained from your chest and your lung has fully re-expanded.
The tube is easy to remove when it is no longer needed. Most people do not need medicine to relax or to numb the area when it is removed.
Some people may have a chest tube inserted that is guided by x-ray or ultrasound. If you have major lung or heart surgery, a chest tube will be placed while you are under general anesthesia (asleep).
Chest tubes are used to treat conditions that can cause a lung to collapse. Some of these conditions are:
Some risks from the insertion procedure are:
You will usually stay in the hospital until your chest tube is removed. Patients may occasionally go home with a chest tube.
While the chest tube is in place, your nurses will carefully check for air leaks, breathing problems, and if you need oxygen. They will also make sure the tube stays in place. Your nurses will tell you whether it is okay to get up and walk around or sit in a chair.
What you will need to do:
Get help right away if:
The outlook depends on the reason a chest tube is inserted. Pneumothorax usually improves if the lungs are not sick. In cases of infection, the patient improves when the infection is treated, although sometimes scarring of the lining of the lung can occur (pleural fibrosis).
Chest drainage tube insertion; Insertion of tube into chest; Tube thoracostomy
Kirsch TD. Tube thoracostomy. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 10.
Updated by: Matthew M. Cooper, MD, FACS, Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery; Medical Director, CareCore National, Bluffton, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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