Descending necrotizing mediastinitis

Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1983 Dec;157(6):545-52.


From January 1975 through July 1981, ten patients with mediastinitis complicating an oropharyngeal infection, that is, a form of mediastinitis best termed as DNM, were encountered at our institution. Based upon rather relatively stringent diagnostic criteria, 21 other instances were found in the literature from 1960 to 1980, a time period well into the antibiotic era. The predominant underlying oropharyngeal infection was of odontogenic origin, specifically, infection involving the mandibular molars. Bacteriologically, DNM is most frequently a polymicrobial process, with anaerobes playing a major role. Although there has been a decline in the over-all incidence of DNM since the introduction of antibiotics, its morbid and lethal nature persists, as evidenced by the present prohibitive mortality of approximately 42 per cent. Delayed diagnosis and inadequate drainage procedures are the primary underlying factors contributing to this high mortality. At present, CT scan is the single most important tool for the early diagnosis of DNM. This noninvasive procedure also helps determine the adequacy of the surgical drainage procedure performed. However, with all the presently available diagnostic tools, it is still the high index of suspicion by physicians toward patients with unrelenting oropharyngeal or deep neck infection that is of utmost importance for making an early diagnosis of DNM. In view of our experience and that of others, we believe that only through aggressive combined medical and surgical management can the highly morbid, if not lethal, course of DNM be reversed. It should be emphasized that, to accomplish successful operative intervention, a thorough knowledge of the complex anatomy of the region is crucial.

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / complications
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Drainage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mandible / surgery
  • Mandibular Diseases / complications
  • Mediastinitis / etiology*
  • Mediastinitis / surgery
  • Necrosis
  • Oropharynx* / surgery
  • Pharyngeal Diseases / complications*
  • Tooth Extraction
  • Tracheotomy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents