Needle versus mini-chest tube for pneumothorax

A mini-chest tube with Heimlich valve was an alternative to needle aspiration in patients with spontaneous pneumothorax, with some apparently favourable outcomes in this small study. The authors do not specify what type of chest tube they used but report it was 12 Fr diameter. They highlight an interesting difference in guidelines for the treatment of spontaneous primary pneumothorax:

Traditional preference has been for chest tube insertion and admission to the ward. British Thoracic Society recommends needle aspiration (NA) as the initial treatment of choice, but American College of Chest Physicians Consensus prefers insertion of small-bore catheters (≤14F) or chest tubes (16-22F).

OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to compare outcomes and complications associated with needle aspiration (NA) and minichest tube (MCT) insertion with Heimlich valve attachment in the treatment of primary spontaneous pneumothorax at an emergency department (ED).

METHODS: Patients presenting with primary spontaneous pneumothorax were randomized to NA or MCT. They had repeat chest x-rays immediately after the procedure and 6 hours later. Patients who underwent NA were discharged if repeat x-rays showed less than 10% pneumothorax. Those who had MCT were discharged if repeat x-rays did not show worsening of pneumothorax. They were reviewed at the outpatient clinic within 3 days. The primary outcomes of interest were failure rate and admission rate. The secondary outcomes were complication rate, pain and satisfaction scores, length of hospital stay, and rate of full recovery during outpatient follow-up.

RESULTS: There were 48 patients whose mean age was 25 years. We found no difference in failure rate between the groups, except that there were more MCT (24%) than NA patients (4%) with complete expansion at first review (difference, -0.20; 95% confidence interval, -0.38 to -0.01). Thirty-five percent of NA group and 20% of MCT group needed another procedure at the ED. Fifty-two percent of NA patients and 28% of MCT patients were admitted from the ED to the inpatient ward. Nine percent and 12%, respectively, of patients who had NA and MCT were admitted from the review clinic. Both groups of patients had equivalent pain scores, satisfaction scores, and complication rates.

CONCLUSION: Both MCT and NA allowed safe management of primary spontaneous pneumothorax in the outpatient setting.

A randomized controlled trial comparing minichest tube and needle aspiration in outpatient management of primary spontaneous pneumothorax
Am J Emerg Med. 2011 Nov;29(9):1152-7