Outcome Analysis of Cirrhotic Patients Undergoing Chest Tube Placement*

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Patients with cirrhosis can acquire pulmonary conditions that may or may not be related to their illness. Although posing a greater risk for complications, chest tubes are sometimes placed as treatment for hepatic hydrothorax and other pulmonary conditions. The aim of this study was to analyze the outcomes of chest tube placement in cirrhotic patients.


A retrospective analysis was performed of 59 adults with cirrhosis undergoing chest tube placement. Variables that were investigated included reason for chest tube placement, complications developing while having the tube in place, and outcome.


The 59 subjects were classified as having Child-Turcotte-Pugh (CTP) class A cirrhosis (n = 3), CTP class B cirrhosis (n = 31), and CTP class C cirrhosis (n = 25). Indications for having a chest tube placed were hepatic hydrothorax (n = 24), pneumothorax (n = 9), empyema (n = 8), video-assisted thoracoscopy (VAT) [n = 7], non-VAT (n = 5), and hemothorax (n = 3). The CTP class A subjects had their chest tubes removed without further complications early in the course, and were excluded from further statistical analysis. Twenty-five subjects (42%) had significant pleural effusions requiring chest tube placement. Among the CTP class B and class C subjects, the median duration with chest tube in place was 5.0 days (range, 1 to 53 days). Serum total bilirubin levels, presence of portosystemic encephalopathy, and CTP C classification were predictors of mortality. Mortalities were seen in 5 of 31 CTP class B subjects (16%), and 10 of 25 CTP class C subjects (40%). The tubes were successfully removed in a total of 39 subjects (66%) with no further procedure. Forty-seven subjects (80%) acquired one or more of the following complications: renal dysfunction, electrolyte imbalances, and infection.


When placed for all indications, chest tubes may be successfully removed in the majority of cirrhotic patients. However, a third of all patients still die with the chest tube still in place. Failure to remove the chest tube increases mortality in patients with increasing severity of liver disease.

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