Objective: Protein-losing enteropathy (PLE) is a known complication of surgical procedures for congenital heart disease. The pathogenesis and pathophysiology of PLE remain poorly understood. However, lymphatic insufficiency appears central to the disease process. We sought to investigate the role of lymphatic obstruction and central venous catheter-related central venous thrombosis in patients with congenital heart disease and PLE.
Design: A case-control study design was constructed consisting of patients with congenital heart disease and PLE and 2:1 matched controls having undergone the same definitive surgical procedure. Obstruction to lymphatic return was considered present if the thoracic duct was ligated, or if there was complete central venous obstruction at the usual site of thoracic duct drainage.
Results: Obstruction to lymphatic return was identified in 4 of 16 cases (25%) and 1 of 32 controls (4%), P = .06. There was no association between PLE and central venous catheter use or duration, and no discriminating characteristics between cases and controls with respect to anatomy, pre-Fontan hemodynamic variables, operative or perioperative factors, or hemodynamic variables at the time of PLE diagnosis. Mortality for patients with PLE was 25% compared with 9% in controls (P = not significant). Long-term resolution of PLE was obtained in six patients (38%).
Conclusion: There is a high prevalence of apparent lymphatic obstruction in patients with congenital heart disease and PLE, suggesting that physical lymphatic obstruction may play an important, and previously unrecognized role in the development of PLE in patients with complex congenital heart disease.