What is the role of thoracotomy in the treatment of hemothorax?

Updated: Jul 13, 2020
  • Author: Mary C Mancini, MD, PhD, MMM; Chief Editor: Jeffrey C Milliken, MD  more...
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Thoracotomy is the procedure of choice for surgical exploration of the chest when massive hemothorax or persistent bleeding is present. At the time of surgical exploration, the source of bleeding is controlled and the hemothorax is evacuated.

Surgical exploration of the chest may be required later in the course of the patient with hemothorax for evacuation of retained clot, drainage of empyema, or decortication. Cases with retained clot can often be treated successfully with a VATS procedure, especially if this is accomplished within 7 days of initial drainage of the hemothorax, but thoracotomy is usually required for adequate empyema drainage or decortication.

In nontraumatic cases of hemothorax resulting from surgically correctable intrathoracic pathology, correction of the underlying disease process and evacuation of the hemothorax should be undertaken. This may include stapling or resection of bullous disease, resection of cavitary disease, resection of necrotic lung tissue, sequestration of arteriovenous malformations, or resection or repair of vascular abnormalities such as aortic aneurysms. [26]

The decision to perform surgical exploration in cases of hemothorax from acute trauma is based on a number of factors, including the volume and persistence of blood loss, the overall hemodynamic state of the patient, and the amount of blood replacement required. (See Approach Considerations.)

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