Guideline of surgical management based on diffusion of descending necrotizing mediastinitis

Jpn J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1999 Jan;47(1):14-9. doi: 10.1007/BF03217934.


Background: Descending necrotizing mediastinitis resulting from oropharyngeal abscess, is a serious, life-threatening infection. Exisiting strategies for surgical management, such as transcervical mediastinal drainage or aggressive thoracotomic drainage, remain controversial.

Methods: Four patients, (three males and one female) were treated for descending necrotizing mediastinitis resulting from oropharyngeal infection. Two had peritonsillar abscesses, while the others experienced dental abscess and submaxillaritis. Descending necrotizing mediastinitis received its classification according to the degree of diffusion of infection diagnosed by computed tomography. Mediastinitis in two cases, (Localized descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type I), was localized to the upper mediastinal space above the carina. In the others, infection extended to the lower anterior mediastinum (Diffuse descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type IIA), and to both anterior and posterior lower mediastinum (Diffuse descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type IIB). The spread of infection to the pleural cavity occurred in three cases.

Results: The surgical outcome concerning each of the patients was successful. Radical cervicotomy (unilateral in three patients, bilateral in the other) in conjunction with mechanical ventilation with continuous postoperative positive airway pressure, was performed in all cases. Tracheostomy was established in three patients and pharyngostomy in two. The two descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type I cases were successfully managed with transcervical mediastinal drainage. The descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type IIA case received treatment through transcervicotomy and anterior mediastinal drainage through a subxiphoidal incision. The patient with descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type IIB required posterior mediastinal drainage through a right standard thoracotomy followed by left minimal thoracotomy.

Conclusions: The mediastinal infection, the extent of which has been accurately determined by computed tomograms, necessitates radical cervicotomy followed by pleuromediastinal drainage. Situations where infection has spread to posterior medisatinum, particularly when it reaches in the level of the carina (descending necrotizing mediastinitis-type I), may not always require aggressive mediastinal drainage. In comparison, diffuse descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type IIB demands complete mediastinal drainage with debridement via thoracotomy. Subxiphoidal mediastinal drainage without sternotomy may provide adequate drainage in diffuse descending necrotizing mediastinitis-Type IIA.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / complications
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jaw Diseases / complications
  • Male
  • Mediastinitis / etiology
  • Mediastinitis / surgery*
  • Methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodontal Abscess / complications
  • Peritonsillar Abscess / complications
  • Treatment Outcome