Patient Care

Conservative Management of Pediatric Pleural Empyema Results in Good Long-Term Outcomes


Clinical question: What are the long-term outcomes of pediatric pleural empyema?

Background: Hospitalizations for complicated pneumonia have increased in recent years. In the U.S., early intervention—commonly video-assisted thorascopic surgery (VATS)—has become popular. Although short-term outcomes appear cost-effective with this approach, long-term comparative-effectiveness outcomes are not entirely clear.

Study design: Prospective observational study.

Setting: Tertiary-care children's hospital.

Synopsis: Over a two-year period, 82 patients were enrolled and available for at least one follow-up visit in a 12-month period. Chest drain was used in 62% of children; fibrinolytics were used in 78% of those cases. All patients received antibiotics. Six patients (7%) were readmitted in the first month, with three patients requiring a chest drain. At 12 months, four patients (5%) had mildly abnormal spirometric or radiographic abnormalities but were asymptomatic with normal quality-of-life scores.

This prospective observational study is notable for the relatively conservative approach (antibiotics alone or chest drainage, without VATS) employed in all subjects. The results provide a comprehensive summary of outcomes at 12 months in this population. Unfortunately, comparative-effectiveness data for VATS are not available in a generalizable form. Nevertheless, this single-center snapshot suggests that long-term outcomes are good with a conservative approach.

Given these findings, and the low likelihood that significant advantages of VATS will be demonstrated in the absence of a large multicenter trial, better understanding of parental preferences will become critical to making the right decision for each patient.

Bottom line: Conservative management of pediatric pleural empyema yields good long-term outcomes.

Citation: Cohen E, Mahant S, Dell SD, et al. The long-term outcomes of pediatric pleural empyema: a prospective study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(11):999-1004.

Reviewed by Pediatric Editor Mark Shen, MD, SFHM, medical director of hospital medicine at Dell Children's Medical Center, Austin, Texas.

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