Descending necrotizing mediastinitis: surgical treatment via clamshell approach

Ann Thorac Surg. 1996 Dec;62(6):1650-4. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(96)00683-2.


Background: Descending necrotizing mediastinitis requires an early and aggressive surgical approach to reduce the high morbidity and mortality associated with this disease. The clamshell incision has provided excellent exposure of the entire mediastinum and both pleural cavities and was assessed in patients suffering from descending necrotizing mediastinitis.

Methods: Three patients with descending necrotizing mediastinitis and bilateral pleural empyema due to invasive streptococcal infections were operated on with this method. Radical debridement of the mediastinum and bilateral decortication was performed through a clamshell incision, including pericardiectomy in 2 patients. All patients received initially a high dose of antibiotic regimen, 2 had bilateral chest tube drainage, and 1 had mediastinal drainage and pleural debridement via cervical mediastinotomy and thoracoscopy, respectively. All these measures alone, however, failed to control the disease.

Results: The clamshell incision offered an excellent exposure for bilateral decortication and debridement of the entire mediastinum including pericardiectomy. One patient, who was referred in critically ill condition, died of multiorgan failure in the postoperative period. The remaining 2 patients recovered without further interventions and without evidence of phrenic nerve palsy, sternum osteomyelitis, or sternal override.

Conclusions: The clamshell approach offers an excellent exposure for a complete one-stage surgical treatment with mediastinal debridement and bilateral decortication in patients suffering from descending necrotizing mediastinitis in the absence of profound septic shock.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Debridement
  • Empyema, Pleural / complications
  • Empyema, Pleural / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mediastinitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Mediastinitis / etiology
  • Mediastinitis / surgery*
  • Mediastinum / diagnostic imaging
  • Mediastinum / surgery
  • Methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis
  • Pericardiectomy
  • Radiography
  • Streptococcal Infections / surgery
  • Thoracic Surgery / methods