Spontaneous bacterial empyema

Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2012 Jul;18(4):355-8. doi: 10.1097/MCP.0b013e328352b50f.


Purpose of review: Spontaneous bacterial empyema (SBEM) is defined as spontaneous infection of a preexisting hepatic hydrothorax. SBEM is diagnosed after exclusion of pneumonia, and, in patients with liver cirrhosis, it is still associated with significant morbidity and mortality. To date, studies focusing on SBEM are rare. This review will highlight the recent data focusing on the clinical characteristics, bacteriology, management, and outcome predictors of cirrhotic patients with SBEM.

Recent findings: The Enterobacteriaceae (Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae) are the major causative pathogens isolated from SBEM patients. Therefore, the cornerstone of therapy is antibiotic therapy with immediate empirical use of third-generation cephalosporins as first-line treatment. Chest-tube placement is not necessary. Regression analysis identified three independent factors related to poor outcome: high score of the model for end-stage liver disease-sodium (MELD-Na), initial ICU admission, and initial antibiotic treatment failure. High MELD-Na score may be a useful predictor of SBEM mortality in cirrhotic patients.

Summary: Although SBEM is a rare complication of cirrhosis, the high mortality rate should increase physicians' index of suspicion in cirrhotic patients with hydrothorax and prompt immediate diagnostic thoracentesis. The MELD-Na score rather than Child-Pugh score may be a strong predictor of in-hospital mortality of SBEM patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy
  • Bacterial Infections / etiology*
  • Empyema / diagnosis
  • Empyema / drug therapy
  • Empyema / etiology*
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Hydrothorax / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / mortality
  • Prognosis
  • Regression Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents