Does Active Chest Tube Clearance After Cardiac Surgery Provide Any Clear Benefits?

Andrei Churyla*, Jane Kruse, Monica Fiehler, Adin Cristian Andrei, Olga N. Kislitsina, James L. Cox, Patrick M. McCarthy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Retained blood syndrome (RBS) encompasses complications, acute and chronic, related to inflammation created by retained intrathoracic blood after cardiac surgery. Reports suggest that active chest tube clearance devices reduce RBS and may lower the rates of reoperation for bleeding and postoperative atrial fibrillation. Methods: In a prospective study (April 2015–October 2017), 1367 patients meeting the study inclusion criteria (1113 control subjects with conventional chest tubes and 254 patients with active chest tube clearance devices [the ATC group]) underwent cardiac surgery through primary sternotomy. Results: Groups were similar in their preoperative and intraoperative characteristics. No differences were found in overall RBS occurrence (4.3% in the ATC group vs 5.3% in the control group; P = .527), including the components of reexploration for bleeding (2.0% [5/254] for the ATC group and 2.4% [27/1113] for the control group; P = .664) and pleural effusion requiring intervention (3.1% [8/254] vs 3.6% [40/1113]; P = .729). Postoperative atrial fibrillation (20.8% [52/254] vs 20.2 % [221/1113]; P = .837) and 30-day mortality were also similar (3.5% vs 2.2%; P = .231). Postoperative blood product use was 31.9% (81/254) in the ATC group and 28.7% (319/1113) in the control group (P = .308). Some complications were more common in the ATC group, including septicemia (2.4% [6/254] vs 0.7% [8/1113]; P = .019) and renal failure (3.9% [10/254] vs 1.7% [19/1113]; P = .026). Median postoperative length of stay was shorter in the ATC group (5 days vs 6 days; P = .025). Conclusions: Active chest tube clearance devices were not associated with improved postoperative outcomes related to RBS at the study institution (Northwestern Medicine, Chicago, IL). Given the additional cost, the nursing effort to maintain the active chest tube clearance devices, and the lack of apparent benefit, this study did not demonstrate the value of using such devices in cardiac surgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
StatePublished - Oct 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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