Korean J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg.  2020 Apr;53(2):41-48. 10.5090/kjtcs.2020.53.2.41.

Chylothorax after Surgery for Congenital Cardiac Disease: A Prevention and Management Protocol

  • 1Division of Cardiovascular Surgery, Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Severance Cardiovascular Hospital, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea


Chylothorax after congenital heart surgery is not an uncommon complication, and it is associated with significant morbidity. However, consensus treatment guidelines are lacking. To improve the treatment outcomes of patients with postoperative chylothorax, we implemented a standardized management protocol at Severance Hospital in September 2014.
A retrospective review of patients treated at a single center was done. All corrective and palliative operations for congenital heart disease performed at our institution between January 2008 and April 2018 were reviewed. The incidence and treatment outcomes of postoperative chylothorax were analyzed.
The incidence of chylothorax was 1.9%. Sixty-one percent of the patients could be managed with a low-fat diet, while 28% of the patients required complete restriction of enteral feeding. Thoracic duct embolization was performed in 2 patients and chest tube drainage decreased immediately after the procedure. No patient required thoracic duct ligation or pleurodesis. After implementation of the institutional management protocol, the number of chest tube drainage days decreased (median, 24 vs. 14 days; p=0.45).
Implementing a strategy to reduce postoperative chylothorax resulted in an acceptable incidence of postoperative chylothorax. Instituting a clinical practice protocol helped to curtail the treatment duration and to decrease the requirement for surgical treatment. Image-guided embolization of the thoracic duct is an effective treatment for postoperative chylothorax.


Chylothorax; Congenital heart defects; Postoperative complication; Postoperative care
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