JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Intrapleural therapy in management of complicated parapneumonic effusions and empyema.

Empyema thoracis causes high mortality, and its incidence is increasing in both children and adults. Parapneumonic effusions (PPEs) develop in about one-half of patients hospitalized with pneumonia, and their presence increases mortality by about four-fold. PPEs can be divided into simple PPEs, complicated PPEs, and frank empyema. Two guideline statements on the management of PPEs in adults have been published by the British Thoracic Society (BTS) and the American College of Chest Physicians; a third guideline statement published by the BTS focused on management of PPEs in children. The two adult guideline statements recommend drainage of the pleural space in complicated PPEs and frank empyema. They also recommend the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis in those who do not show improvement. The pediatric guideline statement recommends adding intrapleural fibrinolysis to those treated by tube thoracostomy if they have loculated pleural space or thick pus. Published guideline statements on the management of complicated PPEs and empyema in adults and children recommend the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis in those who do not show improvement after pleural space drainage. However, published clinical trial reports on the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis for the treatment of pleural space sepsis suffer from major design and methodologic limitations. Nevertheless, published reports have shown that the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis does not reduce mortality in adults with parapneumonic effusions and empyema. However, intrapleural fibrinolysis enhances drainage of infected pleural fluid and may be used in patients with large collections of infected pleural fluid causing breathlessness or respiratory failure, but a proportion of these patients will ultimately need surgery for definite cure. Intrapleural streptokinase and urokinase seem to be equally efficacious in enhancing infected pleural fluid drainage in adults. In most of the published studies in adults, the use of intrapleural fibrinolysis was not associated with serious side effects. There is emerging evidence that the combination of intrapleural tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) and deoxyribonuclease (DNase) is significantly superior to tPA or DNase alone or placebo in improving pleural fluid drainage in patients with pleural space infection. In children, intrapleural fibrinolysis has not been shown to reduce mortality, but has been shown to enhance drainage of the pleural space and was safe. In addition, two prospective, randomized trials have shown that intrapleural fibrinolysis is as effective as video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery for the treatment of childhood empyema and is a more cost-effective treatment and therefore should be the primary treatment of choice.

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