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DOI: 10.7759/cureus.55736; PMCID: PMC10998708


BACKGROUND: A tension pneumothorax is a condition that results in elevated pressure within the pleural space. The effective management of tension pneumothorax relies on needle decompression, commonly performed at the second intercostal space (ICS) midclavicular line (MCL). However, some literature suggests that catheters placed in the second intercostal space midclavicular line are prone to higher failure rates compared to the fifth intercostal space midaxillary line (MAL) (42.5% versus 16.7%, respectively). In this study, we aim to identify and scrutinize the prevalence of prehospital needle decompression from one tertiary care center over eight years and examine their trends, efficacies, or pitfalls. It is hypothesized that preclinical providers are performing needle decompression prematurely and unnecessarily.

METHODS: A set of 90 patient records obtained using the trauma registry at Saint Francis Hospital, Tulsa, Oklahoma, were retrospectively reviewed to evaluate the management and outcomes of tension pneumothorax, as well as the indications documented for needle decompression. Patient charts were reviewed via Epic Hyperspace (Epic, Madison, WI). The Oklahoma Emergency Medical Service Information System (OKEMSIS) also provided information contributing to the sample population.

RESULTS: The most documented indications for needle decompressions included diminished or absent breath sounds (52.70%), hypoxia (15.54%), hypotension, and hemodynamic instability (6.76%). Emergency medical services (EMS) reported improvements in 51 (56.67%) patients after needle thoracostomy. Improvements in vital signs after needle decompression were sporadic. The most common complication was catheter dislodging, which occurred most in the second intercostal space midclavicular line. Only nine patients had an oxygen saturation (SpO2) below 92% and a systolic blood pressure (SBP) below 100 mm Hg prior to receiving needle decompression.

CONCLUSION: Current practices for tension pneumothorax show little improvement in vital signs before and after needle decompression. Vital signs prior to needle decompression often do not indicate tension pneumothorax physiology. Preclinical providers may be inappropriately performing needle decompressions, an invasive procedure with complications.

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acute trauma care; chest wall trauma; needle decompression; needle thoracostomy; pneumothorax (ptx)


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