JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Output of chyle as an indicator of treatment for chylothorax complicating oesophagectomy.

BACKGROUND: The management of chylothorax complicating oesophagectomy remains controversial. Even if medical management alone can be successful, some authors advocate early reoperation. The aim of this retrospective study was to identify the clinical variables associated with a high probability of full recovery with medical treatment.

METHODS: Among 850 Lewis procedures performed for oesophageal carcinoma, 23 patients (2.7 per cent) developed postoperative chylothorax despite systematic preventive ligation of the main thoracic duct. Patients who responded to conservative management were compared with those requiring reoperation for preoperative radiotherapy, unilateral versus bilateral pleural effusion, delay of occurrence of the chylothorax, and ratio of mean chylous output to body-weight 1 and 5 days after its onset.

RESULTS: Conservative management was successful in 14 patients with a mean(s.d.) delay of 12(5) (range 7-21) days and there were no hospital deaths. Reoperation was necessary in nine patients; there were two postoperative deaths and no recurrence of the chylothorax. The only significant difference between reoperated and medically treated patients was the mean(s.d.) chylous output at day 5: 23.5(16.6) versus 6.7(5.5) ml per kg body-weight (P< 0.001). At this time, the output was less than 10 ml/kg in 12 of 14 patients in whom medical treatment was successful (sensitivity 86 per cent), and equal to or greater than this cut-off value in all the patients who underwent reoperation (specificity 100 per cent).

CONCLUSION: The ratio of chylous output to body-weight on the fifth day after the onset of a chylothorax complicating oesophagectomy seems to reliably predict the success of continuing medical treatment.

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