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Chest tube insertion

Chest tube insertion
Chest tube insertion  - series


A chest tube is a hollow, flexible tube placed into the chest. It acts as a drain.

Alternative Names

Chest drainage tube insertion; Insertion of tube into chest; Tube thoracostomy; Pericardial drain


When your chest tube is inserted, you will lie on your side or sit partly upright, with one arm over your head.

After your chest tube insertion, you will have a chest x-ray to make sure the tube is in the right place.

The chest tube most often stays in place until x-rays show that all the blood, fluid, or air has drained from your chest and your lung has fully re-expanded.

The tube is easy to remove when it is no longer needed.

Some people may have a chest tube inserted that is guided by x-ray, computerized tomography (CT), or ultrasound. If you have major lung or heart surgery, a chest tube will be placed while you are under general anesthesia (asleep) during your surgery.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Chest tubes are used to treat conditions that cause a lung to collapse. Some of these conditions are:


Some risks from the insertion procedure are:

After the Procedure

You will most likely stay in the hospital until your chest tube is removed. In some cases, a person may go home with a chest tube.

While the chest tube is in place, your health care provider will carefully check for air leaks, breathing problems, and if you need oxygen. They will also make sure the tube stays in place. Your provider will tell you whether it is OK to get up and walk around or sit in a chair.

What you will need to do:

Get help right away if:

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook depends on the reason a chest tube is inserted. Pneumothorax usually improves, but sometimes needs minimally invasive surgery. In cases of infection, the person improves when the infection is treated, although scarring of the lining of the lung can sometimes occur (fibrothorax).


Kirsch TD, Sax J. Tube thoracostomy. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 10.

Review Date: 4/13/2015
Reviewed By: Dale Mueller, MD, Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon, HeartCare Midwest; Chairman Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and Surgery, OSF St. Francis Medical Center; and Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery, University of Illinois, Peoria, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.