Management of descending necrotizing mediastinitis: an aggressive treatment for an aggressive disease

Ann Thorac Surg. 1999 Jul;68(1):212-7. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(99)00453-1.


Background: Descending necrotizing mediastinitis represent a virulent form of mediastinal infection requiring prompt diagnosis and treatment to reduce the high mortality associated with this disease. Surgical management and a particularly optimal form of mediastinal drainage remain controversial.

Methods: Over a 10-year period, 12 patients were treated at our institution. Surgical treatment consisted of 1 or several cervical drainages, associated with drainage of the mediastinum through a thoracic approach in 11 patients. Thoracic procedures included radical surgical debridement of the mediastinum with complete excision of the tissue necrosis, decortication, and pleural drainage with adequate placement of chest tubes for mediastinopleural irrigation. Transcervical mediastinal drainage was performed in only 1 patient.

Results: The outcome was favorable in 10 patients, 9 of whom had mediastinal drainage through thoracotomy. Two patients were initially drained through a minor thoracic approach; the first died of tracheal fistula and the second required new drainage through a thoracotomy. The patient who had transcervical mediastinal drainage without a thoracic approach presented an abscess limited to the anterior and superior mediastinum. In 3 patients, ongoing mediastinal sepsis required a second thoracotomy.

Conclusion: A stepwise approach with transcervical mediastinal drainage is first justified in patients with very limited disease to the upper mediastinum. However, ongoing mediastinal sepsis requires new drainage, through a major thoracic approach, without delay. Extensive mediastinitis can not be adequately treated without mediastinal drainage including a thoracotomy. This aggressive surgical policy has allowed us to maintain a low mortality rate (16.5%) in a series of 12 patients with this highly lethal disease.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Drainage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mediastinitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Mediastinitis / etiology
  • Mediastinitis / surgery*
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed