Contemporaneous management of esophageal perforation

Ghulam Abbas, Matthew J Schuchert, Brian L Pettiford, Arjun Pennathur, James Landreneau, Joshua Landreneau, James D Luketich, Rodney J Landreneau
Surgery 2009, 146 (4): 749-55; discussion 755-6

BACKGROUND: Esophageal perforation is an important therapeutic challenge. We hypothesized that patients with minimal mediastinal contamination at the time of diagnosis could be managed successfully with nonoperative treatment modalities.

METHODS: We performed a retrospective review of 119 consecutive patients with esophageal perforation from 1998 to 2008. Demographics, cause of perforation, clinical presentation, diagnostic methods, and management results were evaluated. The decision to operate was based on the extent of mediastinal contamination and systemic sepsis rather than cause of perforation.

RESULTS: Median time to diagnosis among all patients was 12 hours (range, 1-120). Spontaneous (Boerhaave's) perforation occurred in 44 (37%) patients. Iatrogenic perforations constituted the remaining patients (n = 75). After instrumental perforation, 9 patients (13%) required esophagectomy, 48 patients were managed with repair and drainage, and the remaining 18 were managed nonoperatively. All 34 patients undergoing operative therapy for spontaneous perforations were treated with esophageal repair. Overall mortality was 14%, with intrathoracic perforations having 18% mortality, cervical 8%, and gastroesophageal junction 3%. Patients undergoing nonoperative therapy had a shorter hospitalizations (13 vs 24 days), fewer complications (36% vs 62%), and less mortality (4% vs 15%) compared with those undergoing operative intervention.

CONCLUSION: An approach to esophageal perforation based on injury severity and the degree of mediastinal and pleural contamination is of paramount importance. Although operative management remains the standard in the majority of patients with esophageal perforation, nonoperative management may be successfully implemented in selected patients with a low morbidity and mortality if favorable radiographic and clinical characteristics are present.

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