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Chest Tubes


What you need to know about a chest tube:

A chest tube is also known as chest drain or chest drainage tube. It is a plastic tube that is put through the side of your chest. It uses a suction device to remove air, blood, or fluid from around your heart or lung. A chest tube will help you breathe more easily.

How to prepare for a chest tube to be inserted:

Your healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare. You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during the procedure. You may instead be given local anesthesia or a nerve block. You will be able to feel some pressure during the procedure, but you should not feel any pain. You may be given antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to anesthesia or an antibiotic.

What happens when a chest tube is inserted:

Your healthcare provider will make a small incision in your chest. A tool is used to make an opening through the chest muscle. The chest tube is inserted slowly until it reaches the pleural space or chest cavity. Your healthcare provider may use an ultrasound to guide him or her. When the tube is in place, it will be connected to a suction and drainage system. Stitches may be sewn into your chest wall to hold the tube in place. Tape may also be used to secure the tube before it is covered with a bandage.

What happens after a chest tube has been inserted:

  • Medicines may be given to relieve pain or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • An x-ray or a CT scan may be used to make sure the tube is in the right place. You may also need an x-ray after your chest tube is removed.

What you need to know about chest tube removal:

  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when the chest tube can be removed. After heart surgery, your chest tube may be removed within 72 hours. For lungs, the chest tube can be taken out when your lung is working normally again. One sign of this is little or no fluid draining into the chest tube. Another sign is no air leaking for 1 to 2 days. You may need a chest x-ray to make sure your lung is working as it should.
  • You may be given medicine to treat pain before the tube is removed. The tape will be removed. The stitches holding the tube in place will be loosened. You may need to breathe a certain way as the tube is taken out. Your healthcare provider will remove the tube. He or she may tighten the stitches to close the opening. He or she will cover the area with a bandage that will stop air from getting into your chest.

Risks of a chest tube:

  • You may get an infection in the area where the tube was inserted. The tube may damage organs that are close to your lungs. Your chest tube may move out of place when you move or turn. If this happens, you may need to have another chest tube put in.
  • You may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. This can be life-threatening.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Blood or fluid soaks through your bandage.
  • Your bandage comes off.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have shortness of breath.
  • You have chest pain. You may have more pain when you take a deep breath or cough. You may cough up blood.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have severe pain and swelling at your wound area.
  • Your wound is red, draining pus, or has a bad smell coming from it.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics help prevent or fight an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.


  • Find a comfortable position. You may have pain or discomfort while the chest tube is in. Lie in a different position to help decrease your pain.
  • Cough and breathe deeply as directed. This will decrease your risk for a lung infection. Take deep breaths and cough 10 times each hour. Hold a pillow tightly against your incision when you cough. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as your can. Then let the air out and cough strongly.

Care for your chest tube:

  • Check your chest tube for kinks or loops. Keep the tube close to you when you are in bed, but do not lie on it. Do not let loops of tubing hang down the side of your bed. Be sure your tubing is long enough so that you can move and turn in bed without pulling on it. Never clamp the tube yourself.
  • Keep the suction device below the level of your chest. This will help fluids drain from your chest to the container below. This will also help prevent fluids from flowing back into your chest.
  • Make sure your chest tube is secure. Make sure your chest tube is securely taped to your body. Your chest tube may also be taped to the suction device to help prevent the tubes from coming apart.
  • Do not turn knobs or change settings on your device unless a healthcare provider tells you to. If your suction device has water in it, the water should bubble gently, with short periods of no bubbling. A lot of bubbling that does not stop may mean air is leaking.

Wound care:

Keep your bandage clean and dry. Ask your healthcare provider when you can bathe.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

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