From 1978 to 1985 96 patients with their first spontaneous pneumothorax were randomised into three groups, receiving either treatment with simple drainage (34 patients), drainage with tetracycline pleurodesis (33 patients), or drainage with talc pleurodesis (29 patients). There were 58 men and 38 women, aged 18-88 years. There was no significant difference between the three groups in the mean time in hospital or the period for which the drains were retained. The incidence of infection, persistent pneumothorax, and relapse while in hospital was also similar for the three groups. At follow-up in 1987-89 patients could be accounted for, with an average follow-up period of 4.6 years. The incidence of recurrence was 36% in the simple drainage group, 13% in the tetracycline pleurodesis group, and 8% in the talc pleurodesis group. The difference between the talc and simple drainage groups was significant. None of the methods caused severe short or long term side effects or changes in the follow-up chest radiograph. Thoracoscopy, performed on admission in 85 patients, showed normal appearances in 73 patients and small cysts in 12. The thoracoscopic findings were of no value in predicting recurrence. Talc pleurodesis resulted in a significantly lower recurrence rate than simple drainage, tetracycline pleurodesis having intermediate efficacy.
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