Learning About a Chest Tube

How a chest tube is placed.

What is a chest tube?

A chest tube is a hollow plastic tube. Your doctor puts the tube into the space around your lungs to drain away fluid, blood, or air. An injury to the chest or another condition may cause fluid, blood, or air to build up around your lungs. This buildup can also happen after some surgeries.

Having fluid, blood, or air in the space around your lungs can cause your lung to collapse. It can also cause infections or breathing problems.

How is the chest tube inserted?

Putting in a chest tube is considered minor surgery, and it may be done while you're awake. You may be lying on your back or sitting up when it is done. Your doctor will inject medicine to numb the area of your chest where the tube will be put in. After your skin is numb, the doctor will make a small cut, called an incision, between two of your ribs. The doctor will put the tube through the incision and into the space around your lungs.

The tube will stay in your chest until all or most of the fluid, blood, or air drains out. This usually takes a few days. Your doctor may attach the tube to a machine that can help the space around your lungs drain better.

While the tube is in your chest, you won't be able to be very active.

You will be in the hospital while the tube is in your chest. The tube will be removed before you leave the hospital.

What can you expect after the tube has been removed?

Before you leave the hospital, the doctor or nurse will tape a bandage over the incision. It will take about 3 to 4 weeks for the cut to heal completely. It may leave a small scar that will fade with time.

You may have some pain in your chest from where the tube was. For most people, the pain goes away after about 2 weeks. If your doctor prescribed pain medicine, take it as prescribed. If you aren't taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the counter medicine, as needed.

Your doctor may want you to have a follow-up X-ray to make sure that fluid, blood, or air hasn't built up again in the space around your lungs.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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