Negative Reexploration for Cardiac Postoperative Bleeding: Can It Be Therapeutic?

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Reexploration of the mediastinum for bleeding is required in 3% to 7% of patients after cardiac operation, with many proving to have no surgically correctable cause. In spite of a “negative exploration,” the bleeding often ceases. We propose the hypothesis that such a negative exploration can be therapeutic by reducing marked fibrinolytic activity in the mediastinal cavity.


Fibrinolytic activity in shed mediastinal blood was compared with that in the system blood in 5 patients after cardiac operation by measuring fibrinogen, fibrin degradation product, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, and α2-antiplasmin levels.


Fibrinolytic activity in mediastinal blood was markedly increased when compared with paired systemic venous blood. This was indicated by the mediastinal blood's lower fibrinogen levels (0.47 versus 1.91 U/mL; p < 0.001), very high levels of fibrin degradation products (1,350 versus 200 ng/mL; p < 0.05), and higher levels of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (55.5 versus 28.1 ng/mL; p < 0.005). Decreased levels of α2-antiplasmin were also observed in the mediastinum (0.50 versus 0.61 U/mL; p < 0.05).


Our data confirm that fibrinolytic activity can be extremely high in the mediastinum in response to clot formation. This may explain the hemostatic effects of a negative reexploration, where irrigation and the removal of clots may reduce the fibrinolytic process; this may allow the bleeding ends of capillaries and small vessels to thrombose. Decreased levels of α2-antiplasmin observed suggest that lysine analogs, such as ε-aminocaproic acid, may have a beneficial role when locally delivered into the mediastinum.

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