BACKGROUND: The treatment of small spontaneous pneumothorax can involve observation, tube thoracostomy, and surgery. This study evaluated the use of short wave diathermy as a method of accelerating the resolution of small pneumothoraces. METHODS: Twenty two patients with pneumothoraces of less than 30% by volume were randomly allocated to receive short wave diathermy for 25 minutes each day (n = 11) or observation with bed rest (n = 11). Chest radiographs were taken until the pneumothoraces resolved. RESULTS: There were no significant differences in the clinical characteristics between the two groups of patients. However, the mean (SD) rate of absorption was significantly higher with short wave diathermy than with observation (3.44 (0.94)% versus 1.57 (0.53)%, difference = 1.87, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.19 to 2.55, p < 0.001). The time to complete reexpansion was shorter with short wave diathermy than with observation (6.86 (3.51) days versus 11.64 (3.61) days, difference = -4.78 days, 95% CI -7.95 to -1.61, p < 0.005). No evidence of damage resulting from short wave diathermy was found. CONCLUSIONS: Although further study is necessary, these results indicate that short wave diathermy may be an alternative treatment for patients with small spontaneous pneumothoraces.
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