Nonoperative thoracic duct embolization for traumatic thoracic duct leak: experience in 109 patients

J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2010 Mar;139(3):584-89; discussion 589-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2009.11.025. Epub 2009 Dec 29.


Objective: To demonstrate the efficacy of a minimally invasive, nonoperative, catheter-based approach to the treatment of traumatic chyle leak.

Methods: A retrospective review of 109 patients was conducted to assess the efficacy of thoracic duct embolization or interruption for the treatment of high-output chyle leak caused by injury to the thoracic duct.

Results: A total of 106 patients presented with chylothorax, 1 patient presented with chylopericardium, and 2 patients presented with cervical lymphocele. Twenty patients (18%) had previous failed thoracic duct ligation. In 108 of 109 patients, a lymphangiogram was successful. Catheterization of the thoracic duct was achieved in 73 patients (67%). In 71 of these 73 patients, embolization of the thoracic duct was performed. Endovascular coils or liquid embolic agent was used to occlude the thoracic duct. In 18 of 33 cases of unsuccessful catheterization, thoracic duct needle interruption was attempted below the diaphragm. Resolution of the chyle leak was observed in 64 of 71 patients (90%) post-embolization. Needle interruption of the thoracic duct was successful in 13 of 18 patients (72%). In 17 of the 20 patients who had previous attempts at thoracic duct ligation, embolization or interruption was attempted and successful in 15 (88%). The overall success rate for the entire series was 71% (77/109). There were 3 (3%) minor complications.

Conclusion: Catheter embolization or needle interruption of the thoracic duct is safe, feasible, and successful in eliminating a high-output chyle leak in the majority (71%) of patients. This minimally invasive, although technically challenging, procedure should be the initial approach for the treatment of a traumatic chylothorax.

MeSH terms

  • Chylothorax / etiology
  • Chylothorax / therapy*
  • Embolization, Therapeutic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pericardial Effusion / etiology
  • Pericardial Effusion / therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracic Duct / injuries*