A chest tube is a plastic tube that is used to drain fluid or air from the chest. Air or fluid that collects in the space between the lungs and chest wall can cause the lung to collapse. Chest tubes can be inserted at the end of a surgical procedure while a patient is still asleep from anesthesia or at the bedside using a local pain killer and some sedation.

Although efforts are made to make the insertion of the surgical chest tube drainage procedure more tolerable, patients still usually experience some discomfort. Often, patients are also given medicine to help ease anxiety.

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The main goal of this procedure is drainage of the pleural space. Patients can expect to see or feel the fluid or air leaving the chest. Often, patients may feel the collapsed lung re-expanding. A chest X-ray will be performed after the procedure to see how much air or fluid has been drained, how much the lung has re-expanded, and to determine the final position of the chest tube.

Chest tubes remain in place for a variable number of days. Usually, when the amount of fluid draining from the tube is low, or there is no more air escaping through the tube, it can be removed.

The duration for which a chest tube is needed varies but is usually a few days. In certain situations, patients can be sent home with a chest tube; however, in most cases they are removed before discharge from the hospital. Your healthcare provider will remove the chest tube by cutting the stitches that hold it in place.

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