The long term effects on lung function of treatment of idiopathic spontaneous pneumothorax by talc poudrage or simple chest drainage were assessed in 114 patients. Subjects were studied 22-35 years after their first pneumothorax with measurement of static and dynamic lung volumes. Eighty patients had been treated with talc pleurodesis and 34 with simple pleural drainage. At the follow up examination 17 had died from what appear to be unrelated causes and two had emigrated. Of the remainder, 75 participated fully in the study, 14 completed a postal questionnaire, and six failed to respond. The group treated with talc poudrage showed a mild restrictive impairment of lung function with a mean total lung capacity (TLC) of 89% predicted. In subjects treated with simple drainage mean TLC was 96% predicted. One subject treated with talc poudrage had extensive pleural calcification and a substantial reduction in lung function (TLC 58% predicted) with some evidence of lung fibrosis. None of the subjects had developed a mesothelioma. We conclude that, although talc poudrage may cause a mild restrictive impairment of lung function and pleural thickening on the chest radiograph, the long term outlook is good.
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