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Chest tube output, duration, and length of stay are similar for pneumothorax and hemothorax seen only on computed tomography vs. chest radiograph.



Whole-body computed tomography (CT) for blunt trauma patients is common. Chest CT (CCT) identifies "occult" pneumo- (PTX) and hemothorax (HTX) not seen on chest radiograph (CXR), one-third of whom get chest tubes, while CXR identifies "non-occult" PTX/HTX. To assess chest tube value for occult injury vs. expectant management, we compared output, duration, and length of stay (LOS) for chest tubes placed for occult vs. non-occult (CXR-visible) injury.


We compared chest tube output and duration, and patient length of stay for occult vs. non-occult PTX/HTX. This was a retrospective analysis of 5451 consecutive Level I blunt trauma patients, from 2010 to 2013.


Of these blunt trauma patients, 402 patients (7.4%) had PTX, HTX or both, and both CXR and CCT. One third (n = 136, 33.8%) had chest tubes placed in 163 hemithoraces (27 bilateral). Non-occult chest tube output for all patients was 1558 ± 1919 cc (n = 54), similar to occult at 1123 ± 1076 cc (n = 109, p = 0.126). Outputs were similar for HTX-only patients, with non-occult (n = 34) at 1917 ± 2130 cc, vs. occult (n = 54) at 1449 ± 1131 cc (p = 0.24). Chest tube duration for all patients was 6.3 ± 4.9 days for non-occult vs. 5.0 ± 3.3 for occult (p = 0.096). LOS was similar between all occult injury patients (n = 46) and non-occult (n = 90, 17.0 ± 15.8 vs. 13.7 ± 11.9 days, p = 0.23).


Mature clinical judgment may dictate which patients need chest tubes and explain the similarity between groups.

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