Postpneumonectomy syndrome: Surgical management and long-term results

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Postpneumonectomy syndrome is a rare syndrome of dynamic airway obstruction caused by extreme rotation and shift of the mediastinum after pneumonectomy, resulting in symptomatic central airway compression. We have treated this syndrome by mediastinal repositioning and placement of saline-filled prostheses into the pneumonectomy space. There is a paucity of outcome data for patients treated surgically, with only a single series of 11 patients previously reported. We analyzed our recent experience with treatment of this syndrome and report on the short and long-term outcomes and quality of life assessment of the largest series ever reported of patients treated by mediastinal repositioning.


Records were reviewed of all patients who underwent mediastinal repositioning for postpneumonectomy syndrome between January of 1992 and June of 2006. Long-term health-related quality of life was assessed by administration of the Saint George's Respiratory Questionnaire.


There were 18 patients (15 women and 3 men) with a median age of 44 years (range 14-67 years). Thirteen patients had undergone right pneumonectomy, and 5 patients had undergone left pneumonectomy. None of the patients in whom postpneumonectomy syndrome developed after left pneumonectomy had a right-sided aortic arch. Five patients had undergone pneumonectomy in childhood (age < 13 years). The median interval between pneumonectomy and mediastinal repositioning was 7.5 years (range 1.1-54.8 years). The median follow-up was 32 months (range 4-143 months). The operative mortality was 5.6% (1/18). Complications occurred in 5 patients (27.8%): pneumonia in 3 patients and acute respiratory distress syndrome in 2 patients. The median hospitalization was 6 days (range 3-155 days). Some 77% (10/13) of patients reported significant improvement in their breathing and overall state of health after surgery; 15.4% of patients (2/13) were somewhat better, and 7.7% of patients (1/13) had no improvement. No patients' condition was worse after surgery. All patients who reported improvement in their symptoms after surgery remained symptomatically improved at the time of the quality of life assessment. Some 92.3% (12/13) were not at all or only slightly limited in their social activities because of breathing problems, and 84.6% (11/13) were not at all or only slightly limited in their ability to work as a result of their physical health.


Repositioning of the mediastinum with placement of prostheses for postpneumonectomy syndrome can be performed with low mortality and morbidity. Surgical repositioning provides immediate and lasting symptomatic relief to patients in whom postpneumonectomy syndrome develops.

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