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A Simple Method for Differentiating Complicated Parapneumonic Effusion/Empyema from Parapneumonic Effusion Using the Split Pleura Sign and the Amount of Pleural Effusion on Thoracic CT.

BACKGROUND: Pleural separation, the "split pleura" sign, has been reported in patients with empyema. However, the diagnostic yield of the split pleura sign for complicated parapneumonic effusion (CPPE)/empyema and its utility for differentiating CPPE/empyema from parapneumonic effusion (PPE) remains unclear. This differentiation is important because CPPE/empyema patients need thoracic drainage. In this regard, the aim of this study was to develop a simple method to distinguish CPPE/empyema from PPE using computed tomography (CT) focusing on the split pleura sign, fluid attenuation values (HU: Hounsfield units), and amount of fluid collection measured on thoracic CT prior to diagnostic thoracentesis.

METHODS: A total of 83 consecutive patients who underwent chest CT and were diagnosed with CPPE (n=18)/empyema (n=18) or PPE (n=47) based on the diagnostic thoracentesis were retrospectively analyzed.

RESULTS: On univariate analysis, the split pleura sign (odds ratio (OR), 12.1; p<0.001), total amount of pleural effusion (≥30 mm) (OR, 6.13; p<0.001), HU value≥10 (OR, 5.94; p=0.001), and the presence of septum (OR, 6.43; p=0.018), atelectasis (OR, 6.83; p=0.002), or air (OR, 9.90; p=0.002) in pleural fluid were significantly higher in the CPPE/empyema group than in the PPE group. On multivariate analysis, only the split pleura sign (hazard ratio (HR), 6.70; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.91-23.5; p=0.003) and total amount of pleural effusion (≥30 mm) on thoracic CT (HR, 7.48; 95%CI, 1.76-31.8; p=0.006) were risk factors for empyema. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value of the presence of both split pleura sign and total amount of pleural effusion (≥30 mm) on thoracic CT for CPPE/empyema were 79.4%, 80.9%, 75%, and 84.4%, respectively, with an area under the curve of 0.801 on receiver operating characteristic curve analysis.

CONCLUSION: This study showed a high diagnostic yield of the split pleura sign and total amount of pleural fluid (≥30 mm) on thoracic CT that is useful and simple for discriminating between CPPE/empyema and PPE prior to diagnostic thoracentesis.

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