Reintervention Rate After Pigtail Catheter Insertion Compared to Surgical Chest Tubes

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The American surgeon




chest tube; pigtail catheter; thoracic surgery


BACKGROUND: Prior studies suggest similar efficacy between large-bore chest tube (CT) placement and small-bore pigtail catheter (PC) placement for the treatment of pleural space processes. This study examined reintervention rates of CT and PC in patients with pneumothorax, hemothorax, and pleural effusion. METHODS: This retrospective study examined patients from September 2015 through December 2020. Patients were identified using ICD codes for pneumothorax, hemothorax, or pleural effusion. Use of a pigtail catheter (≤14Fr) or surgical chest tube (≥20Fr) was noted. The primary outcome was overall reintervention rate within 30 days of tube insertion. Patients who died with a pleural drainage catheter in place, unrelated to complications from chest tube placement, were excluded. RESULTS: There were 1032 total patients in the study: 706 CT patients and 326 PC patients. The PC group was older with more comorbidities and more likely to have effusion as the indication for pleural drainage. Patients with PC were 2.35 times more likely to have the tube replaced or repositioned ( < .0001), 1.77 times more likely to require any reintervention ( = .001) and 2.09 times more likely to remain in the hospital >14 days ( < .0001) compared to patients with CT. CONCLUSION: PCs have a significantly higher reintervention rate compared to CT for the treatment of pneumothorax, hemothorax, and pleural effusion. Although PC are believed to cause less pain and tissue trauma, they do not necessarily drain the pleural space as well as CT. Decisions on which method of draining the chest should be made on a case-by-case basis.