EACTS expert consensus statement for surgical management of pleural empyema

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2015 Nov;48(5):642-53. doi: 10.1093/ejcts/ezv272. Epub 2015 Aug 7.


Pleural infection is a frequent clinical condition. Prompt treatment has been shown to reduce hospital costs, morbidity and mortality. Recent advances in treatment have been variably implemented in clinical practice. This statement reviews the latest developments and concepts to improve clinical management and stimulate further research. The European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (EACTS) Thoracic Domain and the EACTS Pleural Diseases Working Group established a team of thoracic surgeons to produce a comprehensive review of available scientific evidence with the aim to cover all aspects of surgical practice related to its treatment, in particular focusing on: surgical treatment of empyema in adults; surgical treatment of empyema in children; and surgical treatment of post-pneumonectomy empyema (PPE). In the management of Stage 1 empyema, prompt pleural space chest tube drainage is required. In patients with Stage 2 or 3 empyema who are fit enough to undergo an operative procedure, there is a demonstrated benefit of surgical debridement or decortication [possibly by video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)] over tube thoracostomy alone in terms of treatment success and reduction in hospital stay. In children, a primary operative approach is an effective management strategy, associated with a lower mortality rate and a reduction of tube thoracostomy duration, length of antibiotic therapy, reintervention rate and hospital stay. Intrapleural fibrinolytic therapy is a reasonable alternative to primary operative management. Uncomplicated PPE [without bronchopleural fistula (BPF)] can be effectively managed with minimally invasive techniques, including fenestration, pleural space irrigation and VATS debridement. PPE associated with BPF can be effectively managed with individualized open surgical techniques, including direct repair, myoplastic and thoracoplastic techniques. Intrathoracic vacuum-assisted closure may be considered as an adjunct to the standard treatment. The current literature cements the role of VATS in the management of pleural empyema, even if the choice of surgical approach relies on the individual surgeon's preference.

Keywords: Empyema; Pleural infection; Video-assisted thoracic surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Consensus
  • Empyema, Pleural* / diagnosis
  • Empyema, Pleural* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted*