Medical and surgical management of chylothorax and associated outcomes

Fabien Maldonado, Rodrigo Cartin-Ceba, Finn J. Hawkins, Jay H. Ryu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Chylothorax is an uncommon form of pleural effusion that can be associated with traumatic and nontraumatic causes. Optimal management and outcome for patients with chylothorax remain unclear. This retrospective single-center study assessed the modes of management for chylothorax in 74 adult patients (≥18 years old) and associated outcomes. The role of lymphangiographic imaging was also evaluated. Initial treatment approach was nonsurgical in 57 patients (77%) but a surgical procedure (pleurodesis, thoracic duct ligation, and/or surgical repair) was eventually performed in 44 patients (59%). The rate of resolution with initial treatment measures was significantly worse for patients with nontraumatic chylothorax compared with those with traumatic causes (27% versus 50%, P = 0.048). Even after additional therapeutic maneuvers including surgery, chylous effusion recurred more commonly in nontraumatic chylothorax when compared with the traumatic group (50% versus 13%, respectively, P < 0.001). Lymphatic imaging did not seem to materially influence management. Nonsurgical approaches may lead to resolution of the chylothorax in nearly one half of patients with traumatic chylothorax but in only a minority of those with nontraumatic chylothorax. The majority of patients with nontraumatic chylothorax will eventually require surgical maneuvers, but one third of such patients still fail to resolve their chylothorax.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-318
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of the Medical Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Chylothorax
  • Pleural effusion
  • Pleurodesis
  • Thoracic duct ligation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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