The Management of Chylothorax/Chylopericardium Following Pediatric Cardiac Surgery: A 10‐Year Experience

Dao M. Nguyen, Dominique Shum‐Tim, Anthony R.C. Dobell, Christo I. Tchervenkov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


We reviewed the management of 25 cases of chylothorax/chylopericardium (CT/CP) in 24 patients (9 females, 15 male; 3 days to 11-years-old) following 1605 cardiothoracic procedures (incidence of 1.5%) between January 1984 and December 1993 at our institution. The surgical procedures preceding the occurrence of lymph leak included ligation of patent ductus arteriosus (6 patients), coarctation/double aortic arch repairs (3), complex intracardiac repairs (11), and systemic to pulmonary shunts (5). There were 3 C Ps and 22 CTs. All of the patients were initially treated nonsurgically with diet modification using either total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or enteral low fat solid food or enteral elemental diet supplemented with intravenous lipid emulsion. Twenty-one cases (84%) responded to conservative therapy. Of those, 15 had TPN as the initial treatment; the average duration of lymph leak was 13.7 (range 7 to 30) days and the average maximal lymph leak was 39.4 (range 15 to 130) mL/kg per day. The other six cases had low-fat enteral diet as the initial treatment, four resolved completely. Two with high-central venous pressure had to be switched to TPN prior to complete resolution. The average duration of lymph leak in this subgroup was 30 (range 12 to 56) days with the average maximal lymph leak was 30.1 (range 8.5 to 59) mL/kg per day. Excluding these two cases, the average lymph leak of the rest of the group was very compatible to the TPN group of 15 days. Lymphocytopenia and hyponatremia were frequently seen during CT/CP (47.6% and 43%, respectively). Two recurrent CTs in this group were easily treated with reinstitution of low fat diet in one and TPN the other. Four remaining patients required surgical interventions (rethoracotomy and ligation of lymph fistulae in 2, application of fibrin glue to the site of leakage in 1, 1 patient underwent four thoracotomies for persistent CT) for failed initial medical therapy. The mean peak daily lymph loss was 131.2 (range 68.4 to 216) mL/kg which was significantly higher than that of the conservative group (36.2 mL/kg, p < 0.001). Three (75%) had complete cessation of lymph drainage after surgery. We concluded that the majority of CT/CP following surgery for congenital heart diseases could safely be treated without surgical interventions by diet manipulations with acceptable inherent morbidity. Patients with high-central venous pressure should be managed early with TPN and bowel rest. Enteral low- fat diet used in appropriately selected patients appeared to be as effective in controlling lymph leak as TPN. Surgical ligation of severed lymphatics was indicated for few cases with excessive lymph loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-308
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of cardiac surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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