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Complex pleural empyema can be safely treated with vacuum-assisted closure

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      For patients with postoperative pleural empyema, open window thoracostomy (OWT) is often necessary to prevent sepsis. Vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) is a well-known therapeutic option in wound treatment. The efficacy and safety of intrathoracal VAC therapy, especially in patients with pleural empyema with bronchial stump insufficiency or remain lung, has not yet been investigated.


      Between October 2009 and July 2010, eight consecutive patients (mean age of 66.1 years) with multimorbidity received an OWT with VAC for the treatment of postoperative or recurrent pleural empyema. Two of them had a bronchial stump insufficiency (BPF).


      VAC therapy ensured local control of the empyema and control of sepsis. The continuous suction up to 125 mm Hg cleaned the wound and thoracic cavity and supported the rapid healing. Additionally, installation of a stable vacuum was possible in the two patients with BPF. The smaller bronchus stump fistula closed spontaneously due to the VAC therapy, but the larger remained open.

      The direct contact of the VAC sponge did not create any air leak or bleeding from the lung or the mediastinal structures. The VAC therapy allowed a better re-expansion of remaining lung.

      One patient died in the late postoperative period (day 47 p.o.) of multiorgan failure. In three cases, VAC therapy was continued in an outpatient service, and in four patients, the OWT was treated with conventional wound care. After a mean time of three months, the chest wall was closed in five of seven cases. However, two patients rejected the closure of the OWT. After a follow-up at 7.7 months, neither recurrent pleural empyema nor BPF was observed.


      VAC therapy was effective and safe in the treatment of complicated pleural empyema. The presence of smaller bronchial stump fistula and of residual lung tissue are not a contraindication for VAC therapy.

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      Most cited references 13

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      Poststernotomy mediastinitis: a review of conventional surgical treatments, vacuum-assisted closure therapy and presentation of the Lund University Hospital mediastinitis algorithm.

      Poststernotomy mediastinitis, also commonly called deep sternal wound infection, is one of the most feared complications in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. The overall incidence of poststernotomy mediastinitis is relatively low, between 1% and 3%, however, this complication is associated with a significant mortality, usually reported to vary between 10% and 25%. At the present time, there is no general consensus regarding the appropriate surgical approach to mediastinitis following open-heart surgery and a wide range of wound-healing strategies have been established for the treatment of poststernotomy mediastinitis during the era of modern cardiac surgery. Conventional forms of treatment usually involve surgical revision with open dressings or closed irrigation, or reconstruction with vascularized soft tissue flaps such as omentum or pectoral muscle. Unfortunately, procedure-related morbidity is relatively frequent when using conventional treatments and the long-term clinical outcome has been unsatisfying. Vacuum-assisted closure is a novel treatment with an ingenious mechanism. This wound-healing technique is based on the application of local negative pressure to a wound. During the application of negative pressure to a sternal wound several advantageous features from conventional surgical treatment are combined. Recent publications have demonstrated encouraging clinical results, however, observations are still rather limited and the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. This review provides an overview of the etiology and common risk factors for deep sternal wound infections and presents the historical development of conventional therapies. We also discuss the current experiences with VAC therapy in poststernotomy mediastinitis and summarize the current knowledge on the mechanisms by which VAC therapy promotes wound healing. Finally, we suggest a structured algorithm for using VAC therapy for treatment of poststernotomy mediastinitis in clinical practice.
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        Current surgical treatment of thoracic empyema in adults.

         F. Molnár (2007)
        A review of the recent literature on treatment modalities of adult thoracic empyema was conducted in order to expose the controversies and verify where consensus exists. Critical reading filtered through clinical experience was the method followed. The roles of surgical drainage, lavage techniques, debridement via VATS, decortication, thoracoplasty and open window thoracostomy were considered using the Oxford Center of Evidence Based Medicine criteria. The roles of the different therapeutical modalities were interpreted in the light of the triphasic nature of empyema thoracis. The randomised controlled trials came up with conflicting results. With two exceptions all of the papers reviewed provide level (2b) or below evidences. The lack of a single ideal treatment modality or policy reflects the complexity of the diagnosis and staging of this heterogeneous disease. Basic elements of intervention--drainage, different evacuation techniques, decortication, thoracoplasty and open window thoracostomy--are well-established technical modalities; however, neither a universally acceptable primary modality nor the gold standard of their sequence is available. Drainage remains to be the initial treatment modality in Phase I disease. Debridement via VATS is a safe, reliable and efficient method in the fibrinopurulent phase. Organised pleural callus requires formal decortication. Open window thoracostomy is a simple and safe procedure for high-risk patients and results in quick detoxication. Thoracoplasty kept its final role in pleural space management. Acute postoperative bronchial stump insufficiency requires immediate surgery. Evacuation of toxic material is mandatory. No single-stage procedure offers a solution. An optimised agressivity treatment modality should be tailored to the condition of the patient and to the potential of the persisting cavity. Decision-making involves a triad consisting of the aetiology of empyema (i.e. primary vs secondary), general condition of the patient and stage of disease, while considering the triphasic nature of development of thoracic empyema. The current attitudes show that the present concepts are based mainly on expert opinion. Flexibility and patience on behalf of the surgeon and nursing staff, the patient and the hospital management, as well as a good understanding of the complexity of this condition are the cornerstones of the treatment. No exclusive sequence of procedures leading to a uniformly predictable successful outcome is available. Individualised approaches can be recommended based on institutional practice and local protocols. Thoracic empyema in general seems to remain resilient to fit completely into the categories of evidence-based medical approach.
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          A new classification of parapneumonic effusions and empyema.


            Author and article information

            [1 ]Department of Thoracic Surgery, Hospital Barmherzige Brüder Regensburg, Prüfeningerstraße 86, 93049 Regensburg, Germany
            [2 ]Department of Thoracic Surgery, University Regensburg, Franz-Josef-Strauss-Allee 11, 93053 Regensburg, Germany
            J Cardiothorac Surg
            Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery
            BioMed Central
            6 October 2011
            : 6
            : 130
            Copyright ©2011 Sziklavari et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Research Article



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