Thoracoscopy for empyema and hemothorax

R J Landreneau, R J Keenan, S R Hazelrigg, M J Mack, K S Naunheim
Chest 1996, 109 (1): 18-24
Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) has assumed greater importance in the management of pleural disease. Since 1990, we have performed VATS procedures to manage a variety of pathologic pleural processes in 306 patients. The 99 patients with complex empyemas or hemothoraces are the focus of this report. Seventy-six patients with complex empyemas (including 26 chronic) were approached with VATS after inadequate chest tube drainage. The causes associated with the thoracic empyemas were parapneumonic collections in 47, after hemothorax in 8, infected sympathetic effusions associated with intra-abdominal sepsis in 6, postresectional in 5, prolonged bronchopleural fistula following spontaneous pneumothorax in 4, chronic drainage of malignant pleural effusions in 4, and chronic drainage of pleural effusion in 2 patients undergoing chemotherapy. Ages ranged from 14 to 78 years. Sixty-three patients (83%) were treated with thoracoscopic drainage +/- decortication alone. Thirteen patients (17%) required subsequent thoracotomy for decortication, including 12 of the 26 (46%) chronic empyemas known to be greater than 3 weeks old. Chest tubes were removed 3.3 +/- 2.9 days postoperatively in 67 patients; 9 patients (12%) were sent home with empyema tubes. Postoperative hospital stay for these patients with empyema averaged 7.4 +/- 7.2 days. There were five deaths, all related to progressive sepsis from associated pneumonia (6.6%). Twenty-three patients underwent thoracoscopic evacuation of hemothoraces that resulted following open heart surgery in 6, thoracic trauma in 7, were iatrogenic in 7, and bleeding into malignant effusions in 3. All were successfully treated by thoracoscopic drainage and pleural debridement alone. Chest tubes were removed 2.8 +/- 0.5 days postoperatively and hospital stay averaged 4.3 +/- 1.9 days. There were no complications; one patient with a hemothrax (after heart transplant) died of unrelated causes. In our experience, VATS has been highly successful in the early management of empyemas and hemothoraces. Conversion to open thoracotomy must always be anticipated, especially when approaching chronic empyemas.

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