Image-guided chest tube drainage in the management of chylothorax post cardiac surgery in children: a single-center case series



In children, chylothorax post cardiac surgery can be difficult to treat, may run a protracted course, and remains a source of morbidity and mortality.


To analyze the experience with percutaneous image-guided chest-tube drainage in the management of post-cardiac-surgery chylothoraces in children.

Materials and methods

We conducted a single-center retrospective case series of 37 post-cardiac-surgery chylothoraces in 34 children (20 boys; 59%), requiring 48 drainage procedures with placement of 53 image-guided chest tubes over the time period 2004 to 2015. We analyzed clinical and procedural details, adverse events and outcomes. Median age was 0.6 years, median weight 7.2 kg.


Attempted treatments of chylothoraces prior to image-guided chest tubes included dietary restrictions (32/37, 86%), octreotide (12/37, 32%), steroids (7/37, 19%) and thoracic duct ligation (5/37, 14%). Image-guided chest tubes (n=43/53, 81%) were single unilateral in 29 children, bilateral in 4 (n=8/53, 15%), and there were two ipsilateral tubes in one (2/53, 4%). Effusions were isolated, walled-off, in 33/53 (62%). In 20/48 procedures (42%) effusions were septated/complex. The mean drainage through image-guided chest tubes was 17.3 mL/kg in the first 24 h, and 13.4 mL/kg/day from diagnosis to chest tube removal; total mean drainage from all chest tubes was 19.6 mL/kg/day. Nine major and 27 minor maintenance procedures were required during 1,207 tube-days (rate: 30 maintenance/1,000 tube-days). Median tube dwell time was 21 days (range 4–57 days). There were eight mild adverse events, three moderate adverse events and no severe adverse events related to image-guided chest tubes. Radiologic resolution was achieved in 26/37 (70%). Twenty-three children (68%) survived to discharge; 11 children (32%) died from underlying cardiac disease.


Management of chylothorax post-cardiac-surgery in children is multidisciplinary, requiring concomitant multipronged approaches, often through a protracted course. Multiple image-guided chest tube drainages can help achieve resolution with few complications. Interventional radiology involvement in tube care and maintenance is required. Overall, mortality remains high.

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Correspondence to Bairbre L. Connolly.

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Adil, O., Russell, J.L., Khan, W.U. et al. Image-guided chest tube drainage in the management of chylothorax post cardiac surgery in children: a single-center case series. Pediatr Radiol (2021).

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  • Chest
  • Chest tubes
  • Children
  • Chylothorax
  • Interventional radiology
  • Pleural drainage
  • Post cardiac surgery