Management of chylothorax by percutaneous catheterization and embolization of the thoracic duct: prospective trial

J Vasc Interv Radiol. 1999 Oct;10(9):1248-54. doi: 10.1016/s1051-0443(99)70227-7.


Purpose: To prospectively assess the efficacy of percutaneous transabdominal thoracic duct catheterization and embolization in the management of patients with high-output chylothoracic effusions.

Materials and methods: Eleven consecutive patients (four women and seven men; mean age, 53 years) were referred with chylothorax secondary to esophagectomy (n = 4), lobectomy (n = 1), lung transplant (n = 1), coronary artery bypass (n = 1), aortic graft (n = 2), lymphangioleiomyomatosis (n = 1), and gunshot wound (n = 1). Two patients were brought by ambulance and referred back to their hospital on the same day. Pedal lymphography was used to opacify the cisterna chyli or major retroperitoneal lymphatic trunks. When patent, these were punctured under local anesthesia with a fine needle and the thoracic duct was catheterized over a microguide wire with use of a 3-F catheter; the duct was embolized with platinum coils. Patients were followed up for decrease in thoracic drainage output and morbidity.

Results: There were no retroperitoneal ducts suitable for catheterization in six patients because of previous abdominal surgery, trauma, or lymphangioleiomyomatosis; the thoracic duct was successfully catheterized in five patients, a 45% technical success rate. Thoracic duct embolization was performed in four patients, with cure of effusion in two. In the other two patients, one with lymphangioleiomyomatosis and the other with nonchylous pleural fluid, continued effusion was successfully treated by means of pleurodesis. Of two patients with previous thoracic duct ligation, one was found to have the duct incompletely tied. The authors were surprised to find that previous major abdominal surgery, chronic aortic dissection, and lymphangioleiomyomatosis could obliterate major retroperitoneal lymphatic ducts and the cisterna chyli. Percutaneous study of the thoracic duct with aqueous contrast medium was more sensitive than lymphography with iodinated oil. There was no morbidity.

Conclusions: Catheterization of the thoracic duct was possible in all patients who had patent major retroperitoneal lymphatic trunks. Thoracic duct embolization was curative in patients with demonstrable duct leakage. Previous abdominal surgery, aortic dissection, and lymphangioleiomyomatosis can lead to silent occlusion of retroperitoneal lymphatic trunks. Percutaneous thoracic duct catheterization and embolization is safe and can replace surgical ligation in some patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Catheterization / methods*
  • Chylothorax / diagnostic imaging
  • Chylothorax / etiology
  • Chylothorax / therapy*
  • Embolization, Therapeutic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphography
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thoracic Duct