Chest Tube

A chest tube is a small, flexible drainage tube that is put into the chest. The tube drains fluid, blood, or extra air that has built up between the lungs and the inside of the chest wall (pleural space). Fluid or air can build up in this area for various reasons. When this occurs, it can prevent the lung from expanding completely and cause breathing problems. This can be dangerous. The chest tube allows the lung to reexpand.

ExitCare ImageThe procedure to put in the chest tube involves inserting the tube through the skin between the ribs and into the pleural space.


  • Any allergies you have.

  • All medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbs, eye drops, creams, and over-the-counter medicines.

  • Previous problems you or members of your family have had with the use of anesthetics.

  • Any blood disorders you have.

  • Previous surgeries you have had.

  • Medical conditions you have.


Generally, this is a safe procedure. However, as with any procedure, complications can occur. Possible complications include:

  • Bleeding.

  • Injury to the lung.

  • Infection.

  • Chest tube failing to work properly, usually due to leaking of air around the tube or or tube positioning in a place where all of the fluid or air cannot be drained.

  • Problems related to the use of anesthetics or pain medicines.


Ask your doctor if there are any special preprocedure instructions such as not eating before the procedure. Follow these instructions exactly.


The area where the chest tube will be inserted is be numbed with a medicine (local anesthetic). You may be given medicine for pain and medicine to help you relax (sedative). An incision is made in between the ribs, and a small opening is made through the inner lining of the chest wall. The chest tube is inserted through this opening and into the pleural space. The other end of the chest tube may be connected to a plastic container that collects the fluid drained from the pleural space and has sterile water to make a one way seal (or "water seal") that prevents air from going back in the pleural space. Suction is sometimes attached to the system for drainage. A stitch (suture) or tape is used to keep the tube in place.


A chest X-ray will be done to check the position of the chest tube. You will be monitored for breathing difficulties, air leaks in the chest tube, and the need for additional oxygen. You will be encouraged to breathe deeply. You may be given antibiotic medicine to prevent or treat infection. The chest tube will stay in place until all the extra air or fluid has drained from the chest. You will likely need to stay in the hospital until the chest tube is removed. In rare cases, you may go home with the chest tube in place.