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Surgical treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome: effect and results of surgery.

BACKGROUND: Because of the difficulty in diagnosis and different treatment options, debate on thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) has continued. Our aim is to report our surgical experience.

METHODS: Forty-seven patients with thoracic outlet syndrome were operated on between 1985 and 2000. Mean age was 37.9 years (range, 17 to 58 years); female/male ratio was 41/6. The most frequent symptom was paresthesia (72.3%). Seventeen patients (36%) had bilateral symptoms. Of all, 89.3% (42 cases) were neurologic thoracic outlet syndrome, and 10.7% (five cases) were vascular. Lower plexus (C8-T1/ulnar nerve) compression was present in 36 patients and upper plexus (C5-C7/median nerve) compression in 6 patients. Doppler ultrasonography in 11 patients, angiography in 8, and lymph node scintigraphy in 1 patient were also performed. Main operative indications were persistence of symptoms after conservative therapy and reduced (< 60 m/s) ulnar nerve conduction velocity.

RESULTS: Fifty-five operations were performed on the 47 patients. First (59.6%) and cervical costae (21.3%) resections were the most frequent operations. Mean ulnar nerve conduction velocity was 54.8 m/s (range, 43 to 68 m/s) preoperatively and 69.4 m/s (range, 47 to 70 m/s) postoperatively (p < 0.05). The morbidity rate was 17% (8 of 47). No difference was observed between transaxillary and supraclavicular incisions. No brachial plexus injuries occurred. The most frequent cause of morbidity was incisional pain. Two reoperations were performed for recurrences. Follow-up was 4.6 years, and 75% of lower plexus and 50% of upper plexus compressions remained asymptomatic. Severe and long-term pain occurred in 1 patient.

CONCLUSIONS: Surgical decompression for thoracic outlet syndrome is efficient and dependable, but results deteriorate over time.

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