Chylothorax after surgery for congenital heart disease

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2012 Jun;24(3):291-4. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e3283534b7f.


Purpose of review: Postoperative chylothorax is a frequently encountered pathology in the cardiac intensive care unit. The continuous loss of chyle is a challenging problem to treat and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. The purpose of this article is to review the pathophysiology of chylothorax in patients after surgery for congenital heart disease, its implications and the current therapies available.

Recent findings: The incidence of chylothorax has been increasing over the last two decades. Multiple uncontrolled case series describe octreotide as an effective treatment, and octreotide usage is increasing around the world for patients nonresponsive to dietary modifications. Most centers reserve surgical treatment for patients nonresponsive after 4 weeks of medical treatment. Less-invasive surgical procedures such as thoracic duct ligation by video-assisted thoracoscopy are gaining popularity.

Summary: Chylothorax is commonly seen in children after surgery for congenital heart disease. The multiple and serious complications associated with chylous effusions are well known. Conservative therapy with diet modification and octreotide remain the standard initial approach. Thoracic duct ligation has been reported as a highly successful treatment but has considerable risk. Thus, this procedure should be reserved for patients nonresponsive to conservative therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Chylothorax / etiology*
  • Chylothorax / physiopathology
  • Chylothorax / therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Octreotide / therapeutic use
  • Postoperative Complications* / physiopathology
  • Postoperative Complications* / therapy


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Octreotide