VATS and open chest surgery in diagnosis and treatment of benign pleural diseases

Periklis Perikleous, Sridhar Rathinam, David A. Waller


A negative pressure normally exists between the visceral and parietal pleurae in the lungs, which can act as vacuum for fluid, air and small particles from different parts of the body, allowing them to move into the pleural space and be retained in it, thus resulting to different manifestations of pleural disorders. A pleural effusion is the result of fluid collection between the parietal and visceral pleural surfaces. The most common cause in developed countries is congestive heart failure, followed by pneumonia and malignancy. It is highly important that a systematic approach is undertaken during the investigation of pleural effusions. Treatment should be based on the nature of the effusion and underlying condition, while undiagnosed patients should remain under surveillance. Pleural infection is a serious clinical condition which affects approximately 65,000 patients every year in the UK and can result in mortality in rates as high as 20%. The selection of treatment as well as timing of intervention remains a debatable issue among pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons. Surgical intervention aims to control sepsis, by facilitating evacuation of necrotic material from the pleural space, and obliterate the empyema cavity, by allowing the trapped lung to re-expand via peeling of the organised cortex from its visceral pleura. Thoracoscopic surgery offers the advantages of visual assessment of the pleural space and direct tissue sampling and it can be useful for the diagnosis of unknown pleural effusions and in the management of complicated collections. Open thoracotomy remains the gold standard, however with the advancement of thoracoscopic instruments and techniques, minimally invasive approaches provide comparable outcomes and have been taking over the management of benign pleural diseases.