Purpose: Management of empyema has been debated in the literature for decades. Although both primary video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and tube thoracostomy with pleural instillation of fibrinolytics have been shown to result in early resolution when compared to tube thoracostomy alone, there is a lack of comparative data between these modes of management. Therefore, we conducted a prospective, randomized trial comparing VATS to fibrinolytic therapy in children with empyema.
Methods: After Institutional Review Board approval, children defined as having empyema by either loculation on imaging or more than 10,000 white blood cells/microL were treated with VATS or fibrinolysis. Based on our retrospective data using length of postoperative hospitalization as the primary end point, a sample size of 36 patients was calculated for an alpha of .5 and a power of 0.8. Fibrinolysis consisted of inserting a 12F chest tube followed by infusion of 4 mg tissue plasminogen activator mixed with 40 mL of normal saline at the time of tube placement followed by 2 subsequent doses 24 hours apart.
Results: At diagnosis, there were no differences between groups in age, weight, degree of oxygen support, white blood cell count, or days of symptoms. The outcome data showed no difference in days of hospitalization after intervention, days of oxygen requirement, days until afebrile, or analgesic requirements. Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery was associated with significantly higher charges. Three patients (16.6%) in the fibrinolysis group subsequently required VATS for definitive therapy. Two patients in the VATS group required ventilator support after therapy, one of whom required temporary dialysis. No patient in the fibrinolysis group clinically worsened after initiation of therapy.
Conclusions: There are no therapeutic or recovery advantages between VATS and fibrinolysis for the treatment of empyema; however, VATS resulted in significantly greater charges. Fibrinolysis may pose less risk of acute clinical deterioration and should be the first-line therapy for children with empyema.