Transabdominal ligation of the thoracic duct as treatment of choice for postoperative chylothorax after esophagectomy

Dis Esophagus. 2007;20(1):19-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-2050.2007.00636.x.


Postoperative chylothorax after injury of the thoracic duct during esophagectomy is a rare but severe complication which may lead to serious problems such as loss of fat and proteins, and immunodeficiency. Without treatment mortality can rise to over 50%. From 1988 to 2005, we treated 10 patients with postoperative chylothorax after 409 resections of the esophagus (2.4%). Of these 10 patients nine underwent transthoracic esophagectomy with gastric pull-up to enable an intrathoracic (n = 7) or cervical (n = 2) anastomosis and one patient received a transhiatal esophagectomy with gastric pull-up and cervical anastomosis. The average amount of postoperative chylus was 2205 mL (200-4500 mL) per day. After a median postoperative interval of 10 days, relaparotomy and transhiatal double ligation of the thoracic duct was performed in nine out of 10 patients. One patient could be managed conservatively. The average amount of chylus was reduced to 151 mL per day (90.5%). Seven patients had no complications, and three suffered from postoperative pneumonia. Two of the patients with pneumonia recovered, and one died. Discharge from hospital, after ligation of the thoracic duct, was possible after a median time of 18 days (11-52). Ligation of the thoracic duct via relaparotomy appeared to be a simple and safe method to treat postoperative chylothorax.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chylothorax / surgery*
  • Esophagectomy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Complications*
  • Length of Stay
  • Ligation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / surgery*
  • Thoracic Duct / injuries*
  • Thoracic Duct / surgery*
  • Treatment Outcome