T Tube

Continuing Education Activity

A T-tube is a T-shaped tube placed in the common bile duct following procedures involving the duct, such as after choledochotomy. T-tubes can also be used for persistent duodenal fistulas, pancreaticoduodenectomies, or hepaticojejunostomy in liver transplantation. T-tubes provide external drainage of bile via a controlled route the original pathology is resolving. T-tubes should not be confused with tracheal tubes or tympanoplasty tubes. This activity reviews the indications, contraindications, and techniques involved in placing T-tubes and highlights the role of the interprofessional team in the care of patients undergoing this procedure.


  • Identify the anatomical structures, indications, and contraindications of T tube.
  • Describe the equipment, personnel, preparation, and technique in regards to T tube placement and care.
  • Recall, analyze, and select appropriate evaluation of the potential complications and clinical significance of T tube and bile duct obstruction.
  • Employ interprofessional team strategies for enhancing care coordination and communication regarding management of T-tubes to improve patient outcomes.


T Tube is a draining tube placed in the common bile duct after Common Bile Duct (CBD) exploration with supra-duodenal choledochotomy. It provides external drainage of bile into a controlled route while the healing process of choledochotomy is maturing and the original pathology is resolving. T tub is named to reflect the shape of the tube used for the CBD drainage. It is not be confused with the Tracheal tube or Tympanoplasty tube.

Other options of managing CBD exploration are stenting, or primary closure in selected patients have been used[1][2]. The idea and procedure was introduced and used for decades by surgeons around the world. It was the standard of care for CBD exploration until a couple of decades ago[3][4][5]

Anatomy and Physiology

The CBD is the continuation of the hepatic duct after the cystic duct joins it[6]. The CBD then runs medially and inferiorly until it reaches the second part of the duodenum[7]. T tube is usually inserted at the choledochotomy site. It is part of the closure of the choledochotomy. The chosen site of choledochotomy is the common bile duct segment between the cystic duct junction and the duodenal lateral border. This is the accessible site of surgery. Upon T tube placement and closure of the choledochotomy, the tube is passed in the shortest distance to the anterior abdominal wall, then through the abdominal to the skin surface in the right upper quadrant.


Indications of T Tube can be summarized in one concept that is to stent and drain the common bile duct after choledochotomy[8]. The most common reason for performing choledochotomy is extraction of biliary stones[1]. Choledochotomy, stone extraction and T Tube placement was common procedure for intractable stones before the ERCP era. Since ERCP became available and expertise were developed, it became the common and less aggressive approach to CBD stones extractions[9][3]. The number of choledochotomies became much less common and not familiar procedure to many surgeons trained and practiced after 2000.

Another less common reason is repairing limited injury of the CBD over a T tube. Simple closure of the CBD injury without stenting and draining is associated with a high rate of stricture and or leak. T tube placement may also be used for CBD drainage when ERCP and PTC fail to clear the CBD intraluminal non-malignant obstruction. This is a rare indication, but it is an option to relieve the obstruction and prevent further complications.

A common misconception is using the word T tube interchangeably with different tubes such as Cholecystostomy tube and PTC drain. The Cholecystostomy tube is a tube that is inserted by interventional radiology method through the abdominal wall into the gallbladder, and serves as a drain to an inflamed gallbladder in patients with acute cholecystitis who are otherwise at high risk to undergo formal cholecystectomy. On the other hand, Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiogram (PTC) is a drain that is inserted through the abdominal wall into a major hepatic duct, also by interventional radiology method, and serves as an external drain for bile in patients with bile duct obstruction until the underlying pathology is treated.


The special part of the equipment is the T tube itself. As the name refers, it is a special tube in the shape of T with a shorter transverse part (20 cm) that stays inside the CBD (after trimming) and a long longitudinal part (60 cm) that extends from the middle of the transverse part to an end that connects with a drainage bag. This portion extends from the CBD to outside the abdominal cavity when applied. It comes with different circumference sizes (10, 12, 14, 16, 18 Fr). T tube can be made of different materials like latex, silicone, red rubber and polyvinyl chloride (PVC)[10]. PVC is very inert causing the least tissue reaction with lack of tissue tract formation making it the least favorable material for T tube placement purposes. Silicon has many favorable physical properties, but it can disintegrate with poor handling making it not a practical option for long-term placement. Latex has the desired properties to be the most commonly used. Red rubber is an alternative if latex can not be used or is not available[10].


Placing T tube in the CBD after choledochotomy is technically challenging[11]. It should be done with several precautions in mind to achieve the purpose and cause no complications[12]. The technical concept is to keep the draining (transverse) end of the T tube inside the CBD. Before placement, the segment is trimmed to a short length of 2-4 cm and cut longitudinally to remove half of the circumference. Additional wedge cut at the point where this segment meets the main long segment is made. The idea of trimming is to facilitate tube removal with minimal risk of leak or other complications.  This trimmed transverse segment of the tube placed in the CBD provides stenting support for the CBD and anchors the tube in place. Caution should be taken to keep the tube lumen patent without pressure. Bile should easily pass through the tube lumen otherwise the likelihood of a leak from the choledochotomy site will significantly increase[13]. Choledochotomy closure around the tube exit should be done meticulously in a tension free fashion. A fine ( 3-0 or 4-0) monofilament absorbable suture should be used. Non-absorbable suture can be a nidus for stone formation or infection. Closure is fashioned longitudinally with the direction of the incision and CBD. Choledochotomy direction and site should be placed longitudinal in the anterior portion of the duct to avoid interrupting the blood supply.

Flushing the tube at this stage is important to ensure tube patency and absence of leakage. The tube is then exteriorized through the abdominal wall in the shortest and most straight possible distance. This will facilitate easier possible intervention through the T tube and formation of short and straight tissue tract that can also be used for intervention. Deflation of the pneumoperitoneum at the end of the procedure is helpful to adjust the intra-abdominal needed length of the tube. Flushing and irrigation is important at this stage too to ensure continued patency and absence of a leak. Jackson Prat draining tube should be placed nearby the choledochotomy area. This is a very important supportive measure to provide both continuous monitoring of a possible leak and drain the leak if it happens. A controlled and drained leak is much easier to handle than undrained leak. The JP drain should be left in place until after removal of the T tube.

Different surgeons may have different approaches depending on their experiences. But these the important principles that should be considered in T tube placement[14].


Complication of T tube placement can be due to the procedure technique, the nature of the disease, or patients' reasons. T tube placement demands high skills. Optimal techniques may reduce complications. Leak around the tube, tight closure of the choledochotomy, the inclusion of the T tube in the suturing are the possible technique complications.

Bile leak is the most common complication with T tube placement and the following period. This could be immediate, delayed, or after removal.

Clinical Significance

The clinical use of T tube has been significantly decreased in the last two decades due to the availability of less invasive alternatives of removing CBD stones. Because placement and removal of T tube is technically demanding and the complication rate and complexity are high, it should not be routinely performed. Less aggressive alternatives should be considered first.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

CBD exploration can be managed with other non-T tube options. CBD stenting or primary closure can be used in selected patients. Stenting may provide better length of stay and hospitalization cost when appropriately and selectively used[1]. It is very important clinicians and nurses work together to manage and maintain T-tubes.

Article Details

Article Author

Ghaith Al-Qudah

Article Editor:

Faiz Tuma


9/8/2020 4:28:53 PM

PubMed Link:

T Tube



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