Thumbnail image of: Respiratory System: Illustration

Chest Tube (Tube Thoracostomy)

What is a chest tube?

A chest tube is needed when fluid (called a pleural effusion) or air (called a pneumothorax) fills the space between the ribs and the lungs and is putting pressure on the lungs and making it hard to breathe. A chest tube, also called a tube thoracostomy, involves putting a tube into the space between your rib cage and one of your lungs. The tube is usually connected to a suction drain to help remove the fluid or air.

How is a chest tube placed?

Before the procedure:

  • If you need a chest tube because you are having surgery inside the chest or for another non-emergency reason, your healthcare provider will ask you to sign a consent form for the procedure. This will include any other necessary treatment related to procedure. The consent form will state the reason you are having the procedure, what happens during the procedure, and what you may expect afterward.
  • If you need a chest tube because of an emergency condition, your provider may treat you without waiting for consent.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to any medicines.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking any medicines, including nonprescription drugs, herbal remedies, or illegal drugs (if any).
  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.

During the procedure:

  • You will be given a sedative, which will help you to relax. This is usually given in your IV.
  • You will be given medicines to prevent pain during the chest tube insertion. These may include:
    • Local anesthesia: Numbs the area where the chest tube will be placed
    • General anesthesia: Relaxes your muscles and puts you to sleep. A breathing tube is usually put in your throat when you have general anesthesia.
  • The healthcare provider will make a cut in the side of your chest between the ribs.
  • The tube will be placed through the cut into the area that needs to be drained. The surgeon will secure the tube in place with stitches. The tube will be connected to a suction drain.
  • The surgeon will place a dressing around the tube.

After the procedure:

  • You will be checked often by nursing staff.
  • There will be a dressing on skin around the chest tube. The dressing will be checked and changed by your provider or the nursing staff as needed.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Reduce swelling in or around the lungs
    • Reduce fluid build-up and swelling in the body
    • Help relax your airways
  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.
  • A cardiac (heart) monitor may be used to keep track of your heart’s rate and rhythm.
  • The suction drain connected to the tube will be checked and emptied regularly.

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Anxiety
    • Chest pain
    • Chills or sweats
    • Cough
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Trouble breathing
  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with a chest tube is 6 to 7 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-30
Last reviewed: 2014-04-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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