Complications of tube thoracostomy placement in the emergency department

Author Department

Emergency Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



BACKGROUND: Emergency medicine residents frequently perform invasive procedures, including tube thoracostomy (TT), that inherently place patients at risk for complications. OBJECTIVES: The purpose of the study was to assess the prevalence and types of complications from TT in an academic emergency department (ED). METHODS: A combined prospective and retrospective, observational study of all patients who had TT between December 2002 and January 2006 was performed. Exclusion criteria included age < 15 years and tube placement at an outside facility. Complications detected in the ED were defined as immediate, whereas those discovered later were defined as delayed. Complications requiring corrective surgical intervention, administration of blood products, or intravenous antibiotics were defined as major. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to identify operator and patient factors associated with complications. RESULTS: TTs were placed in 242 patients, and 90 (37%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 31.1-43.3%) experienced a complication. Major complications included one intercostal artery laceration, one retroperitoneal placement, and empyema in 2 patients. In multivariate analysis, blunt injury excluding motor vehicle accidents (odds ratio [OR] 2.57; 95% CI 1.27-5.21) and spontaneous pneumothorax (OR 3.84; 95% CI 1.80-8.18) were associated with all complications. TT size < 36 French and blunt injury excluding motor vehicle accidents were associated with immediate complications and spontaneous pneumothorax was associated with delayed complications. CONCLUSIONS: The vast majority of complications from TT in the ED were minor. The prevalence of complications was consistent with previous reports of TTs placed by non-emergency-medicine-trained physicians outside the ED. The findings can be used to identify avoidable complications and improve residency training. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.