Pneumothorax Types
Spontaneous Pneumothorax
Tension Pneumothorax
Traumatic Pneumothorax
News and Research
Discussion Forums
Links and Resources
Personal Experiences
News Archive
General Information
Advisory Panel
About Us

Thorax: "Bedside tracer gas technique accurately predicts outcome in aspiration of spontaneous pneumothorax "

D G Kiely*, S Ansari, W A Davey, V Mahadevan, G J Taylor, D Seaton
Department of Respiratory Medicine, The Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, Ipswich IP4 5PD, UK

Correspondence to: Dr D Seaton douglas.seaton@ipsh-tr.anglox.nhs.uk

Received 28 September 2000; Returned to authors 18 December 2000; Revised version received 19 April 2001; Accepted for publication 23 April 2001


There is no technique in general use that reliably predicts the outcome of manual aspiration of spontaneous pneumothorax. We have hypothesised that the absence of a pleural leak at the time of aspiration will identify a group of patients in whom immediate discharge is unlikely to be complicated by early lung re-collapse and have tested this hypothesis by using a simple bedside tracer gas technique.


Eighty four episodes of primary spontaneous pneumothorax and 35 episodes of secondary spontaneous pneumothorax were studied prospectively. Patients breathed air containing a tracer (propellant gas from a pressurised metered dose inhaler) while the pneumothorax was aspirated percutaneously. Tracer gas in the aspirate was detected at the bedside using a portable flame ioniser and episodes were categorised as tracer gas positive (>]]]1 part per million of tracer gas) or negative. The presence of tracer gas was taken to imply a persistent pleural leak. Failure of manual aspiration and the need for a further intervention was based on chest radiographic appearances showing either failure of the lung to re-expand or re-collapse following initial re-expansion.


A negative tracer gas test alone implied that manual aspiration would be successful in the treatment of 93% of episodes of primary spontaneous pneumothorax (p<0.001) and in 86% of episodes of secondary spontaneous pneumothorax (p=0.01). A positive test implied that manual aspiration would either fail to re-expand the lung or that early re-collapse would occur despite initial re-expansion in 66% of episodes of primary spontaneous pneumothorax and 71% of episodes of secondary spontaneous pneumothorax. Lung re-inflation on the chest radiograph taken immediately after aspiration was a poor predictor of successful aspiration, with lung re-collapse occurring in 34% of episodes by the following day such that a further intervention was required.


National guidelines currently recommend immediate discharge of patients with primary spontaneous pneumothorax based primarily on the outcome of the post-aspiration chest radiograph which we have shown to be a poor predictor of early lung re-collapse. Using a simple bedside test in combination with the post-aspiration chest radiograph, we can predict with high accuracy the success of aspiration in achieving sustained lung re-inflation, thereby identifying patients with primary spontaneous pneumothorax who can be safely and immediately discharged home and those who should be observed overnight because of a significant risk of re-collapse, with an estimated re-admission rate of 1%.

To purchase the full text version of this article click [[[here.