Purpose: To demonstrate the applicability, technique, and efficacy of percutaneous transabdominal catheter embolization or needle disruption of retroperitoneal lymphatic vessels in the treatment of high-output or unremitting chylothorax.
Materials and methods: Forty-two patients (21 men, 21 women; mean age, 56 y; range, 19-80 y) who had chylothorax with various etiologies were referred from the thoracic surgery department for treatment as soon as chylothorax was documented. The thoracic duct was punctured and catheterized via a peritoneal cannula to facilitate embolization with use of microcoils, particles, or glue; if there were no lymph trunks that could be catheterized, attempts were made to disrupt lymph collaterals with use of needles.
Results: The thoracic duct was catheterized in 29 patients and embolized in 26 patients. In patients with lymph trunks that could be catheterized, treatment resulted in cure within 7 days in 16 patients and partial response with cure within 3 weeks in six patients. In the patients with lymph trunks that could not be catheterized (n = 16), disruption with use of needles resulted in cure in five patients and partial response in two patients. Cure and partial response rates after thoracic duct embolization and needle disruption were 73.8%, with no morbidity. Surgical thoracic duct ligation was performed in seven patients. The nonprocedural mortality rate was 19%. Follow-up was 3 months or longer.
Conclusions: Effective percutaneous treatment of high-output or medically uncontrollable chylothorax was performed promptly and safely in more than 70% of referred cases. This procedure should be attempted, especially if patients are very ill, before riskier surgical thoracic duct ligation is considered.