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Thoracoscopic evacuation of retained posttraumatic hemothorax.

BACKGROUND: Residual posttraumatic hemothoraces occur in 1% to 20% of patients managed with tube thoracostomy. Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) has emerged as an alternative to thoracotomy to evacuate these retained collections. This report reviews a recent trauma unit experience with thoracoscopic evacuation of hemothoraces.

METHODS: The records of all trauma patients undergoing surgical intervention for retained hemothoraces over the 30-month period January 2001 to June 2003 were reviewed.

RESULTS: The study included 46 patients. All sustained penetrating injuries, 40 with stab and 6 with gunshot wounds. Twenty-two, 17, and 7 patients each had one, two and three attempts at drainage with tube thoracostomy, respectively. In 37 patients (80%), retained infected/uninfected pleural fluid was successfully evacuated thoracoscopically. VATS failed in 9 (20%) patients and the procedure was converted to open thoracotomy. Dense adhesions were present in all 9 of these patients. The mean time interval between injury and thoracoscopy and thoracotomy, was 13.3 days (range 3-46 days) and 14.5 days (range 11-24 days), respectively. The mean volume of pleural fluid evacuated thoracoscopically was 650 mL. The failure of VATS evacuation correlated with the empyema rate. The median postoperative stay was 5 days for both groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery is an accurate, safe, and reliable operative therapy for retained posttraumatic pleural collections, even in patients presenting later than the conventionally accepted 3- to 5-day window from the time of injury.

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