Forty-three patients with thoracic empyema were treated by means of image-guided catheter drainage. In 40 patients, image-guided catheter drainage was the primary treatment method; in three it was used after conventional, surgical chest tube placement failed. Drainage was performed with ultrasound guidance in 30 patients (69.8%), computed tomography in eight (18.6%), and fluoroscopy in five (11.6%). A combination of guidance modalities was used in six patients. Image-guided catheter drainage alone was successful in 31 of 43 patients (72.1%). In three patients (7%), empyemas were initially drained, but a thoracotomy was ultimately required because of a persistent pleural peel. In eight patients (18.6%), the procedure failed, predominantly due to tube clogging, persistent pneumothorax, or progressive development of a pleural peel. In one patient, drainage was successful but he died 10 days later of complications of renal failure. No major complications were encountered. Treatment of these patients requires a thorough understanding of the pathogenesis of pleural space infection, principles of empyema drainage, techniques of abscess drainage under image guidance, and the use of a pleural drainage system.