Does VATS provide optimal treatment of empyema in children? A systematic review

Robert L Gates, Donna A Caniano, John R Hayes, Marjorie J Arca
Journal of Pediatric Surgery 2004, 39 (3): 381-6

PURPOSE: The surgical literature is replete with studies describing methods of treatment for pediatric empyema. The purpose of this report was to perform an evidence-based review of the literature to determine the most effective and appropriate treatment for empyema in infants and children.

METHODS: The MEDLINE database was searched for English- and Spanish-language articles published from 1987 through 2002 on the treatment of thoracic empyema in children. Additional unpublished data were obtained by contacting individual study authors. There were no multiinstitutional prospective studies; all were retrospective, institutional series. A true meta-analysis could not be performed because of inherent institutional bias and variability in outcome measures among studies. A Kruskal-Wallis nonparametric test was used to compare methods detailed in the individual studies.

RESULTS: Forty-four retrospective studies with a total of 1,369 patients were available for analysis. Four treatment strategies were compared: chest tube drainage alone (16 studies, 611 patients), chest tube drainage with fibrinolytic instillation (10 studies, 83 patients), thoracotomy (13 studies, 226 patients), and video-assisted thoracoscopic decortication (VATS; 22 studies, 449 patients). Outcome measures common to the majority of studies included length of stay, fever duration, l of antibiotic therapy duration, and duration of chest tube drainage. Patients undergoing early VATS or thoracotomy had shorter length of stay (P =.003). There was a trend for shorter duration of postoperative fever compared with chest tube alone or with fibrinolytic therapy, but this did not reach statistical significance (P =.055). There was no statistical difference in chest tube duration between methods. There was no trend correlating antibiotic use with treatment methods, length of hospital stay, duration of fever, or length of chest tube requirement.

CONCLUSIONS: Early VATS or thoracotomy leads to shorter hospitalization. The duration of chest tube placement and antibiotic use is variable and does not correlate with treatment method. A carefully designed, multiinstitutional, randomized study would lead to the development of evidence-based standards that may optimize the treatment of thoracic empyema in children.

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