Sternal wound infections

AACN Clin Issues Crit Care Nurs. 1993 Aug;4(3):475-83.


Sternal wound infections are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. They occur in 1% to 3% of patients who undergo open-heart surgery and carry a 20% to 40% mortality rate. Sternal infections can range from minor, superficial infections to open mediastinitis with invasion of the sternum, heart, and great vessels. Staphylococcus species are responsible for the majority of sternal infections, but environmental sources can cause infections by other organisms. The common signs and symptoms of mediastinitis are fever, leukocytosis, sternal instability, drainage, and pain. Several risk factors exist for sternal wound infection, with bilateral internal mammary artery bypass grafting in diabetic patients being the most common. Treatment entails surgical debridement with either closed irrigation, open-wound packing, or muscle or omental flap procedures, as well as antibiotic therapy. Some simple procedures help limit the development of sternal infections in certain patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cross Infection / transmission
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Mediastinitis / microbiology
  • Postoperative Period
  • Risk Factors
  • Sternum / surgery*
  • Surgical Wound Infection / etiology*
  • Surgical Wound Infection / nursing
  • Surgical Wound Infection / therapy