Chest Tube or Percutaneous Catheter Placement

A chest tube or percutaneous catheter is a hollow tube inserted into the space around your lungs, called the pleural space, in order to drain blood, air or infected material, and allow your lungs to expand freely. Chest tube placement is indicated for:

  • Bleeding in the pleural space which can occur from an accident
  • Collapsed lung
  • Lung infection
  • Fluid buildup due to pneumonia or cancer
  • Procedures in the chest cavity such as lung, esophageal and heart surgeries
  • Inability to breathe freely due to accumulation of fluid or air
  • Assessment of lung injuries with air leak

The chest tube is usually inserted as an emergent procedure and doesn’t usually require any preparation. To perform the procedure, a local or intravenous anesthetic is administered and the skin on the side of your chest is sterilized. A small incision is made in the skin between your ribs through which the chest tube is carefully guided to enter your pleural space. Once in correct position, it is secured with a stitch and covered with a sterile bandage. The tube is attached to a one-way drainage system that prevents backflow of air or fluid. Once the tube is in place, you are continually monitored.

The chest tube remains until drainage is complete – usually a few days. After this it is removed by your doctor using a quick maneuver as you hold your breath to avoid extra air filling in your lungs. A bandage is then placed over the site.

As with any invasive procedure, chest tube placement may be associated with a few risks such as bleeding, infection, pain, collapse of the lung during removal or injury to the lung or other internal organs from improper placement of the tube.