Does needle thoracostomy provide adequate and effective decompression of tension pneumothorax?

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Tension pneumothorax (tPTX) is a common and potentially fatal event after thoracic trauma. Needle decompression is the currently accepted first-line intervention but has not been well validated. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a properly placed and patent needle thoracostomy (NT) compared with standard tube thoracostomy (TT) in a swine model of tPTX.

METHODS

Six adult swine underwent instrumentation and creation of tPTX using thoracic CO2 insufflation via a balloon trocar. A continued 1 L/min insufflation was maintained to simulate an ongoing air leak. The efficacy and failure rate of NT (14 gauge) compared with TT (34F) was assessed in two separate arms: (1) tPTX with hemodynamic compromise and (2) tPTX until pulseless electrical activity (PEA) obtained. Hemodynamics was assessed at 1 and 5 minutes after each intervention.

RESULTS

A reliable and highly reproducible tPTX was created in all animals with a mean insufflation volume of 2441 mL. tPTX resulted in the systolic blood pressure declining 54% from baseline (128–58 mm Hg), cardiac output declining by 77% (7–1.6 L/min), and equalization of central venous pressure and wedge pressures. In the first arm, there were 19 tPTX events treated with NT placement. All NTs were patent on initial placement, but 5 (26%) demonstrated mechanical failure (due to kinking, obstruction, or dislodgment) within 5 minutes of placement, all associated with hemodynamic decline. Among the 14 NTs that remained patent at 5 minutes, 6 (43%) failed to relieve tension physiology for an overall failure rate of 58%. Decompression with TT was successful in relieving tPTX in 100%. In the second arm, there were 21 tPTX with PEA events treated initially with either NT (n = 14) or TT (n = 7). The NT failed to restore perfusion in nine events (64%), whereas TT was successful in 100% of events as a primary intervention and restored perfusion as a rescue intervention in eight of the nine NT failures (88%).

CONCLUSION

Thoracic insufflation produced a reliable and easily controlled model of tPTX. NT was associated with high failure rates for relief of tension physiology and for treatment of tPTX-induced PEA and was due to both mechanical failure and inadequate tPTX evacuation. This performance data should be considered in future NT guideline development and equipment design.

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