Pleural empyema: 24-year experience

Ann Thorac Surg. 1996 Oct;62(4):1026-9. doi: 10.1016/0003-4975(96)00494-8.


Background: Despite the widespread use of antibiotics, empyema remains a common and serious problem, and its treatment is controversial.

Methods: Our experience in 380 patients with empyema was retrospectively reviewed.

Results: The causes of empyema were as follows: pneumonia (n = 308), late complication of tuberculosis (n = 24), trauma (n = 15), pulmonary gangrene (n = 3), retained foreign body (n = 1), and undetermined (n = 29). An exudative state was diagnosed in 273 patients, a fibrinopurulent state in 55, and an organizing state in 52. Pleuroscopy was performed in 107 patients resistant to treatment, and this revealed an expansible lung in 49 patients, a nonexpansible lung in 51, and exceptional findings (foreign body, necrotizing pneumonitis, and perforated esophageal cancer) in 7. Treatment was modified accordingly. Five patients died (mortality, 1.3%).

Conclusions: Pleuroscopy is very helpful in disclosing factors responsible for resistance to treatment and in carrying out thorough pleural toilet. The use of talc in selected patients causes pleurodesis and prevents the reaccumulation of pus. Decortication is the ideal treatment in the organizing stage, enabling complete lung expansion. Fenestration is lifesaving in moribund patients who cannot tolerate decortication.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Empyema, Pleural* / diagnosis
  • Empyema, Pleural* / etiology
  • Empyema, Pleural* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies