Management of chylothorax via percutaneous embolization

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Purpose of review

The purpose of this review is to present a novel radiologic percutaneous transabdominal technique for treating high-output chylothorax by thoracic duct embolization, and to demonstrate that it can be potentially safer than the traditional treatment by surgical open-chest thoracic duct ligation.

Recent findings

Pedal lymphography is initially performed to opacify large retroperitoneal lymph channels; a suitable duct more than 2 mm in diameter is then punctured transabdominally to allow catheterization and embolization of the thoracic duct under fluoroscopic guidance. If feeding lymphatic channels are too small for catheterization, they can often be occluded by needle disruption. This percutaneous interventional technique, which has been used in 60 patients with mostly high-output chylothorax caused by thoracic surgery, resulted in a 65% cure rate with no morbidity. Back-up surgical thoracic duct ligation was performed promptly on suitable lower risk patients when the percutaneous procedure failed.


We have found that two thirds of patients presenting with life-threatening chylothorax can be safely treated by percutaneous transabdominal thoracic duct blockage. When successful, this novel interventional procedure can obviate repeat major thoracic surgery and shorten hospital stays.

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