[Skip to Content]
Access to paid content on this site is currently suspended due to excessive activity being detected from your IP address Please contact the publisher to request reinstatement.
[Skip to Content Landing]
February 22, 2010

Pneumothorax Following Thoracentesis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Renal Section, Department of Medicine, Boston University Medical Center (Dr Gordon), Center for Clinical Evidence Synthesis, Tufts Medical Center (Dr Balk), and Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School (Dr Smetana), Boston, Massachusetts; and Interventional Pulmonology, Department of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland (Dr Feller-Kopman).

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(4):332-339. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.548

Background  Little is known about the factors related to the development of pneumothorax following thoracentesis. We aimed to determine the mean pneumothorax rate following thoracentesis and to identify risk factors for pneumothorax through a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Methods  We reviewed MEDLINE-indexed studies from January 1, 1966, through April 1, 2009, and included studies of any design with at least 10 patients that reported the pneumothorax rate following thoracentesis. Two investigators independently extracted data on the pneumothorax rate, risk factors for pneumothorax, and study methodological quality.

Results  Twenty-four studies reported pneumothorax rates following 6605 thoracenteses. The overall pneumothorax rate was 6.0% (95% confidence interval [CI], 4.6%-7.8%), and 34.1% of pneumothoraces required chest tube insertion. Ultrasonography use was associated with significantly lower risk of pneumothorax (odds ratio [OR], 0.3; 95% CI, 0.2-0.7). Lower pneumothorax rates were observed with experienced operators (3.9% vs 8.5%, P = .04), but this was nonsignificant within studies directly comparing this factor (OR, 0.7; 95% CI, 0.2-2.3). Pneumothorax was more likely following therapeutic thoracentesis (OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.8-3.8), in conjunction with periprocedural symptoms (OR, 26.6; 95% CI, 2.7-262.5), and in association with, although nonsignificantly, mechanical ventilation (OR, 4.0; 95% CI, 0.95-16.8). Two or more needle passes conferred a nonsignificant increased risk of pneumothorax (OR, 2.5; 95% CI, 0.3-20.1).

Conclusions  Iatrogenic pneumothorax is a common complication of thoracentesis and frequently requires chest tube insertion. Real-time ultrasonography use is a modifiable factor that reduces the pneumothorax rate. Performance of thoracentesis for therapeutic purposes and in patients undergoing mechanical ventilation confers a higher likelihood of pneumothorax. Experienced operators may have lower pneumothorax rates. Patient safety may be improved by changes in clinical practice in accord with these findings.