Surgical treatment versus conventional chest tube drainage in primary spontaneous pneumothorax: a randomized controlled trial

Winnie Hedevang Olesen, Niels Katballe, Jesper Eske Sindby, Ingrid Louise Titlestad, Poul Erik Andersen, Rune Lindahl-Jacobsen, Peter Bjørn Licht

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OBJECTIVES: Primary spontaneous pneumothorax frequently recurs after chest tube management. Evidence is lacking whether patients may benefit from surgery following their first episode. METHODS: We performed a multicentre, randomized trial and enrolled young, otherwise healthy patients admitted with their first episode of primary spontaneous pneumothorax and treated using conventional chest tube drainage. Patients underwent high-resolution computed tomography on fully expanded lungs, and using web-based randomization, we assigned patients to continued conservative chest tube treatment or chest tube treatment followed by video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) with the resection of bullae/blebs and mechanical pleurodesis. Patients were stratified into 2 groups based on the presence of bullae ≥1 cm on high-resolution computed tomography. The primary end point was readmission with ipsilateral recurrence. Secondary end points were complications and length of hospitalization. RESULTS: Between 1 August 2009 and 4 November 2016, we screened 457 patients, of whom 373 were eligible for inclusion and 181 were enrolled: male/female ratio = 5.0. We identified 88 patients with blebs <1 cm: 50 were randomly assigned to chest tube treatment and 38 to VATS. Ninety-three patients had bullae ≥1 cm: 43 were randomly assigned to chest tube treatment and 50 to VATS. Forty-three (23.8%) patients experienced recurrence during the follow-up period. Overall, recurrence was significantly lower following VATS when compared with conventional chest tube treatment (P = 0.0012). When stratified by bullae size, VATS proved significantly better for bullae ≥1 cm (P = 0.014). We observed a size-response relationship with increased risk of recurrence for larger bullae (P = 0.013). CONCLUSIONS: Surgery was an effective treatment to prevent recurrence in patients with their first presentation of primary spontaneous pneumothorax and should be the standard of care when high-resolution computed tomography demonstrates bullae ≥2 cm. Clinical trial registration: NCT 02866305.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)113-121
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jul 2018


  • High-resolution computed tomography
  • Pneumothorax
  • Randomized controlled study
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery


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