Is observation for traumatic hemothorax safe?

Leah Demetri, Myriam M. Martinez Aguilar, Jordan D. Bohnen, Ryan Whitesell, D. Dante Yeh, David King, Marc De Moya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma guidelines suggest tube thoracostomy (TT) be considered for all traumatic hemothoraces. However, previous research has suggested that some traumatic hemothoraces may be observed safely. We sought to (1) determine the safety of selective observation for traumatic hemothorax and (2) identify predictors of failed observation. METHODS All patients with traumatic hemothorax from 2000 to 2014 at a Level I trauma center were identified and categorized by size as small (<300 cc) or large (≥300 cc) based on chest computed tomography (CT) scan measurements. Patients with no CT or with TT placement before CT were excluded. Patients were categorized into four intervention groups: (i) early TT (<24 hours after CT), (ii) failed observation (TT ≥24 hours after CT), (iii) successful observation (no TT), and (iv) inevaluable due to early mortality (no TT but died within 7 days). Univariate analyses compared outcomes between groups. Multivariate analyses identified independent predictors of failed observation. RESULTS Three hundred forty patients met the inclusion criteria. 156 (46%) patients received early TT. Of the 184 patients that were initially observed, 121 (66%) were successfully observed, 53 (29%) failed observation, and 10 (5%) were inevaluable due to early mortality. Most of the successfully observed hemothoraces were small (119/121, 98%). Four independent predictors of failed observation were identified: Older age, fewer ventilation-free days, large hemothorax, concurrent pneumothorax. Patients, who received TT were more likely than non-TT patients to receive tissue plasminogen activator, develop an empyema, have fewer hospital-free days, and are discharged to rehabilitation rather than home. When compared to early TT, failed observation was associated with a higher likelihood of discharge to rehabilitation but no difference in mortality, hospital-free days, or rate of empyema. CONCLUSION Initial observation in select patients is safe and may result in better outcomes. The identified predictors of failed observation can help in clinical decision making regarding the need for TT in patients with traumatic hemothorax. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Therapeutic/care management, level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)454-458
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • expectant management
  • Traumatic hemothorax
  • tube thoracostomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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