Medical and surgical management of chylothorax and associated outcomes

Am J Med Sci. 2010 Apr;339(4):314-8. doi: 10.1097/MAJ.0b013e3181cdcd6c.


Chylothorax is an uncommon form of pleural effusion that can be associated with traumatic and nontraumatic causes. Optimal management and outcome for patients with chylothorax remain unclear. This retrospective single-center study assessed the modes of management for chylothorax in 74 adult patients (> or =18 years old) and associated outcomes. The role of lymphangiographic imaging was also evaluated. Initial treatment approach was nonsurgical in 57 patients (77%) but a surgical procedure (pleurodesis, thoracic duct ligation, and/or surgical repair) was eventually performed in 44 patients (59%). The rate of resolution with initial treatment measures was significantly worse for patients with nontraumatic chylothorax compared with those with traumatic causes (27% versus 50%, P = 0.048). Even after additional therapeutic maneuvers including surgery, chylous effusion recurred more commonly in nontraumatic chylothorax when compared with the traumatic group (50% versus 13%, respectively, P < 0.001). Lymphatic imaging did not seem to materially influence management. Nonsurgical approaches may lead to resolution of the chylothorax in nearly one half of patients with traumatic chylothorax but in only a minority of those with nontraumatic chylothorax. The majority of patients with nontraumatic chylothorax will eventually require surgical maneuvers, but one third of such patients still fail to resolve their chylothorax.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chylothorax / diagnosis*
  • Chylothorax / surgery*
  • Chylothorax / therapy
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphography / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult