International Perfusion Association


Timing of Chest Tube Removal Following Adult Cardiac Surgery: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial

Objectives: Early chest tube removal following cardiac surgery may be associated with an increased risk of pleural or pericardial effusions following cardiac surgery. This study compares the effects of two fast-track chest tube removal protocols regarding the risk of pleural or pericardial effusions, requirement of opioids, respiratory function, and postoperative complications.

Design: Prospective non-blinded cluster-randomized study with alternating chest tube removal protocol in adult patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery. Monthly changing allocation to scheduled chest tube removal on the day of surgery (Day 0) versus removal on the 1st postoperative day (Day 1) provided no air leakage and output < 200 mL within the last four hours.

Results: A total of 527 patients were included in the study from September 1st 2020 until October 29th 2021 and randomly allocated to chest tube removal at day 0 (n = 255), and day 1 (n = 272). More than every fourth patient required drainage for pleural effusion with no significant difference between the groups. Earlier removal of chest tubes did not reduce requirement of analgesics, improve early respiratory function, or reduce postoperative complications. The study was halted for futility after halfway interim analysis showed insufficient promise of any treatment benefit.

Conclusion: Fast-track protocols with chest tube removal within the first 24 h after cardiac surgery may be associated a high rate of pleural effusions.

Keywords: Cardiac surgery; analgesics; chest tube; enhanced recovery after surgery; pleural effusion; randomized controlled trial.

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