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BackgroundChylothorax is an uncommon medical condition for which limited data are available regarding the contemporary aetiology, management and outcomes. The goal of this study was to better define these poorly characterised features.MethodsThe medical records of adult patients diagnosed with chylothorax at 12 centres across Europe, America and South Africa from 2009-2021 were retrospectively reviewed. Descriptive and inferential statistics were performed.Results77 patients (median age 69 years, male to female ratio 1.5) were included. Subacute dyspnoea was the most typical presenting symptom (66%). The commonest cause of chylothorax was malignancy (68.8%), with lymphoma accounting for 62% of these cases. Other aetiologies were trauma (13%), inflammatory/miscellaneous conditions (11.7%) and idiopathic cases (6.5%). At the initial thoracentesis, the pleural fluid appeared milky in 73%, was exudative in 89% and exhibited triglyceride concentrations >100 mg·dL-1 in 88%. Lymphangiography/lymphoscintigraphy were rarely ordered (3%), and demonstration of chylomicrons in pleural fluid was never ascertained. 67% of patients required interventional pleural procedures. Dietary measures were infrequently followed (36%). No patient underwent thoracic duct ligation or embolisation. Morbidity included infections (18%), and thrombosis in malignant aetiologies (16%). The 1-year mortality was 47%. Pleural fluid protein >3.5 mg·dL-1 (sub-distribution hazard ratio (SHR) 4.346) or lactate dehydrogenase <500 U·L-1 (SHR 10.21) increased the likelihood of effusion resolution. Pleural fluid protein ≤3.5 mg·dL-1 (HR 4.047), bilateral effusions (HR 2.749) and a history of respiratory disease (HR 2.428) negatively influenced survival.ConclusionChylothoraces have a poor prognosis and most require pleural interventions. Despite the standard recommendations, lymphatic imaging is seldom used, nor are dietary restrictions followed.

Original publication




Journal article


ERJ open research

Publication Date





91 - 2023


Pleural Medicine Unit, Department of Internal Medicine, Arnau de Vilanova University Hospital, IRBLleida, University of Lleida, Lleida, Spain.