Objective: Despite modern diagnostic methods and appropriate treatment, pleural empyema remains a serious problem. Our purpose was to assess the feasibility and efficacy of the video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery in the management of nontuberculous fibrinopurulent pleural empyema after chest tube drainage treatment had failed to achieve the proper results.
Methods: We present a prospective selected single institution series including 45 patients with pleural empyema who underwent an operation between March 1993 and December 1996. Mean preoperative length of conservative management was 37 days (range, 8-82 days). All patients were assessed by chest computed tomography and ultrasonography and underwent video-assisted thoracoscopic debridement of the empyema and postoperative irrigation of the pleural cavity.
Results: In 37 patients (82%), video-assisted thoracoscopic debridement was successful. In 8 cases, decortication by standard thoracotomy was necessary. There were no complications during video-assisted thoracic operations. The mean duration of chest tube drainage was 7. 1 days (range, 4-140 days). At follow-up (n = 35) with pulmonary function tests, 86% of the patients treated by video-assisted thoracic operation showed normal values; 14% had a moderate obstruction and restriction without impairment of exercise capacity, and no relapse of empyema was observed.
Conclusions: Video-assisted thoracoscopic debridement represents a suitable treatment for fibrinopurulent empyema when chest tube drainage and fibrinolytics have failed to achieve the proper results. In an early organizing phase, indication for video-assisted thoracic operation should be considered in due time to ensure a definitive therapy with a minimally invasive intervention. For pleural empyema in a later organizing phase, full thoracotomy with decortication remains the treatment of choice.