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Short-term and long-term outcomes of intrathoracic vacuum therapy of empyema in debilitated patients

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      This retrospective study analyzed the effectiveness of intrathoracic negative pressure therapy for debilitated patients with empyema and compared the short-term and long-term outcomes of three different intrapleural vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) techniques.


      We investigated 43 consecutive (pre)septic patients with poor general condition (Karnofsky index ≤ 50 %) and multimorbidity (≥ 3 organ diseases) or immunosuppression, who had been treated for primary, postoperative, or recurrent pleural empyema with VAC in combination with open window thoracostomy (OWT-VAC) with minimally invasive technique (Mini-VAC), and instillation (Mini-VAC-Instill).


      The overall duration of intrathoracic vacuum therapy was 14 days (5–48 days). Vacuum duration in the Mini-VAC and Mini-VAC-Instill groups (12.4 ± 5.7 and 10.4 ± 5.4 days) was significantly shorter ( p = 0.001) than in the group treated with open window thoracostomy (OWT)-VAC (20.3 ± 9.4 days). No major complication was related to intrathoracic VAC therapy. Chest wall closure rates were significantly higher in the Mini-VAC and Mini-VAC-Instill groups than in the OWT-VAC group ( p = 0.034 and p = 0.026). Overall, the mean postoperative length of stay in hospital (LOS) was 21 days (median 18, 6–51 days). LOS was significantly shorter ( p = 0.027) in the Mini-VAC-Instill group (15.1 ± 4.8) than in the other two groups (23.8 ± 12.3 and 22.7 ± 1.5). Overall, the 30-day and 60-day mortality rates were 4.7 % (2/43) and 9.3 % (4/43), and none of the deaths was related to infection.


      For debilitated patients, immediate minimally invasive intrathoracic vacuum therapy is a safe and viable alternative to OWT. Mini-VAC-Instill may have the fastest clearance and healing rates of empyema.

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      Intrathoracic application of a vacuum-assisted closure device in managing pleural space infection after lung resection: is it an option?

      Empyema after lung resection is a challenging condition to manage and is associated with a high mortality. Intrathoracic application of a vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) device is recently introduced as an adjunct in the management of this condition. A best evidence topic was constructed to address whether this approach is effective in successful chest closure and reducing hospital stay. Twenty-three papers were found using the reported search, of which nine papers were identified that provided the best evidence to answer the question. All papers were retrospective and included a total of 69 patients treated with intrathoracic VAC. There was only one cohort study and the rest were either case series or case reports. In a cohort of 19 patients reported by Palmen et al. the average duration of an open window thoracostomy in a group of patients with VAC (n=11) was 39 ± 17 days and in those without VAC (n=8) was 933 ± 1422 days. Median length of VAC treatment was 22 days (range 6-66 days) in a series of 28 patients reported by Saadi et al. Some authors excluded patients with a bronchopleural fistula (BPF) from VAC treatment. However, Groetzner et al. have safely used VAC in patients with BPF after covering the bronchus stump with an intrathoracic muscle flap. The mediastinum and the bronchus can be covered using a polyvinyl-alcohol foam. Polyurethane foam is commonly used to fill the intrathoracic cavity up to the superficial wound. The suggested starting level of negative pressure is as low as -25 mmHg to -75 mmHg depending on the presence or absence of signs of mediastinal traction; this negative pressure can gradually be increased to -125 mmHg over time. The recommended interval between VAC changes is two to five days. Accumulated evidence in this article, although limited, suggests that VAC, as an adjunct to the standard treatment, can potentially alleviate the morbidity and decrease hospital stay in patients with empyema after lung resection. VAC can reduce inpatient length of treatment and can make the condition manageable in an outpatient setting. These results are yet to be proven by larger studies and clinical trials.
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        Open window thoracostomy treatment of empyema is accelerated by vacuum-assisted closure.

        Recurrent thoracic empyema in the presence of residual lung tissue can be treated with an open window thoracostomy (OWT). Vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) of these large thoracic defects is a novel option. Nineteen patients with residual lung tissue received an OWT for treatment of recurrent thoracic empyema. In this retrospective case series, 8 patients (aged 58 +/- 20 years, all male) were treated conventionally, and 11 patients (aged 53 +/- 17 years, 8 male) were treated with VAC. The application of the VAC system resulted in rapid debridement of the thoracic cavity and reexpansion of the residual lung tissue. The duration of OWT and VAC therapy was 39 +/- 17 and 31 +/- 19 days, respectively. All 11 patients were amenable for subsequent closure using pedicled muscular flaps. In 2 patients, VAC therapy alone resulted in complete closure of the OWT. The average duration of follow-up was 46 +/- 19 months. All patients, except 1, have recovered well. One patient died of nonpulmonary causes. In the non-VAC group (n = 8), the OWT was managed conventionally by application of saline-soaked gauzes. In 2 patients, the OWT was eventually closed using pedicled muscular flaps (after 75 and 440 days, respectively). Four patients died of OWT-related complications (1 bleeding, 3 recurrent infections) during follow-up; 1 patient died of a cause unrelated to OWT. The average duration of OWT was 933 +/- 1,422 days. When compared with conventional management of OWT, VAC therapy accelerates wound healing and improves reexpansion of residual lung tissue in patients with OWT after empyema, allowing rapid surgical closure.
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          Accelerated treatment of postpneumonectomy empyema: a binational long-term study.

          Postpneumonectomy empyema remains a clinical challenge. We proposed an accelerated therapy without an open chest window 5 years ago. This concept was evaluated on a larger scale in 2 centers in 2 different countries. Between July 1995 and October 2005, 75 consecutive patients with postpneumonectomy empyema were treated in Szczecin, Poland (n = 35), and Zurich, Switzerland (n = 40). The therapy consisted of repeated open surgical debridement of the pleural cavity after achievement of general anesthesia, a negative pressure wound therapy of the temporarily closed chest cavity filled with povidone-iodine-soaked towels, and continuous suction and systemic antimicrobial therapy. If present, bronchopleural fistulae were closed and reinforced either with a muscle flap or the omentum. Finally, the pleural space was filled with an antibiotic solution and definitively closed. Of 75 patients (63 men; median age, 59 years; age range, 19-82 years), postpneumonectomy empyema was present on the right in 46 patients (32 with bronchopleural fistula) and in 29 patients (12 with bronchopleural fistula) on the left. Median time between pneumonectomy and postpneumonectomy empyema was 131 days (range, 7-7200 days). Bronchopleural fistulae have been closed and additionally reinforced by means of different methods (omentum, 18; muscle, 11; pericardial fat, 5; azygos vein, 1). The chest was definitively closed within 8 days in 94.6% of patients. The median hospitalization time was 18 days (range, 9-134 days). Postpneumonectomy empyema was successfully treated in 97.3% of patients, including 10 (13%) patients who needed a second treatment cycle. Three (4%) patients died within 90 days. The median follow-up time was 29.5 moths (range, 3-107 months). Treatment of postpneumonectomy empyema with the accelerated treatment is effective and safe. Our results are superior compared with those in reported series using a (temporary) chest fenestration. Patients appreciate the physical integrity of the chest.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Department of Thoracic Surgery, Krankenhaus Barmherzige Brüder Regensburg, Prüfeningerstraße 86, 93049 Regensburg, Germany
            [2 ]Department of Thoracic Surgery, University Medical Center Regensburg, Franz-Josef-Strauss-Allee 11, 93053 Regensburg, Germany
            [3 ]Center for Clinical Studies, University Medical Center Regensburg, Franz-Josef-Strauss-Allee 11, 93053 Regensburg, Germany
            +49 941 369 2231 ,
            J Cardiothorac Surg
            J Cardiothorac Surg
            Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery
            BioMed Central (London )
            21 October 2016
            21 October 2016
            : 11
            27769303 5073825 543 10.1186/s13019-016-0543-7
            © The Author(s). 2016

            Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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