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Should pregnant patients with a recurrent or persistent pneumothorax undergo surgery?

  • Nwaejike, Nnamdi
  • Elbur, Ehab
  • Rammohan, Kandadai S
  • Shah, Rajesh
Published Article
Interactive Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2013
DOI: 10.1093/icvts/ivt396
PMID: 23996735


A 29-year old woman at 26 weeks gestation (gravida 3 and para 0) presented with an acute left-sided pneumothorax. She had a 10 pack-year smoking history and no other relevant medical history. Over the next 3 weeks, she had three recurrences of her left-sided pneumothorax, each of which was managed by intercostal drain insertion. During the fourth episode of pneumothorax, after chest drain insertion there was a continued air-leak for 4 days. She was referred to the cardiothoracic service for further management of this problem. A best evidence topic was constructed according to a structured protocol to answer the question: in pregnant patients with a recurrent or persistent pneumothorax, is surgery safer compared with conservative treatment for the wellbeing of the patient and the foetus? The 2010 guidelines for the management of pneumothorax state that there is Level C evidence that simple observation and aspiration are usually effective during pregnancy, with elective assisted delivery and regional anaesthesia at or near term. The guidelines also state Level D evidence that a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) procedure should be considered after birth. Three hundred and eighty-four papers were found, and from these, four papers were identified describing 79 cases of pneumothorax in pregnancy to provide the best evidence to answer the question. Conservative treatment by observation alone with or without tube thoracostomy compared with surgical treatment by VATS or thoracotomy are the options used in the observed literature reviews. All reports observe no difference in outcome to the mother or foetus if a conservative approach (observation or tube thoracostomy) is used compared with surgery prior to the delivery of the baby. However, an initial conservative approach could lead to surgery after delivery for a persistent pneumothorax in as much as 40% of patients. A persistent pneumothorax after delivery that might require surgery delays discharge home and compromises the normal interaction between the mother and new-born child, which might be distressing. For informed consent, the implications of the risk of persistent pneumothorax requiring surgery after delivery where a conservative approach is used initially should be discussed with the patient and family to aid decision making.

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