Comparison of Water Seal and Suction After Pulmonary Lobectomy: A Prospective, Randomized Trial

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The objective of the present study was to assess whether placing chest tubes on water seal after pulmonary lobectomy reduced the duration of air leak compared with suction.


One hundred forty-five patients who underwent pulmonary lobectomy for lung cancer and with an air leak on the first postoperative day were prospectively randomly assigned to two groups: in group 1 (72 patients), chest tubes were placed on water seal on the morning of the first postoperative day; in group 2 (73 patients), chest tubes were on continuous suction (−20 cm H2O). Eighty percent of the patients who underwent upper lobectomy had also a pleural tent procedure. Preoperative, operative, and postoperative variables were compared between the groups.


The two groups were evenly matched for preoperative and operative characteristics. No statistically significant differences were found between group 1 and group 2 in terms of air leak duration (6.5 versus 6.3, respectively; p = 0.9) and the incidence of prolonged air leak cases (27.8% versus 30.1%, respectively; p = 0.8). Similar results were obtained when the analysis was corrected for the length of the stapled parenchyma and the site of resection (upper and lower resections) or restricted to patients with a forced expiratory volume in 1 second less than 80% of predicted. Water seal patients had increased postoperative complications compared with suction patients (31.9% versus 17.8%, respectively; p = 0.056).


Chest tubes placed on water seal after pulmonary lobectomy were generally well tolerated and safe; however, they did not reduce the duration of air leak or the incidence of prolonged air leak compared with suction.

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