BACKGROUND: Problems in the management of thoracic trauma have stimulated the search for an alternative to underwater seals for drainage of the pleural cavity. A chest drainage bag incorporating a one way flutter valve has been compared with underwater seal drains in a randomised clinical trial. METHODS: During June-December 1989 119 patients undergoing elective thoracotomy were randomised to receive postoperative chest drainage by drainage bags (56 patients, 87 drains) or by underwater seal drains (63 patients, 98 drains). Daily drainage volumes, the requirement for pleural suction, mobility, and complications were recorded prospectively. RESULTS: There was no significant difference between the two groups in the mean volume drained, the requirements for pleural suction, or the occurrence of complications. Patients with drainage bags were fully mobile 23 hours (95% confidence interval 0-47 hours) earlier than the others. CONCLUSIONS: When used after elective thoracotomy drainage bags are safe and effective and permit earlier mobility than underwater seal drains.
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