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Clinical review: Intrapericardial fibrinolysis in management of purulent pericarditis

Pascal Augustin1*, Mathieu Desmard1, Pierre Mordant2, Sigismond Lasocki1, Jean-Michel Maury2, Nicholas Heming1 and Philippe Montravers1

Author Affiliations

1 Département d'Anesthésie et Réanimation Chirurgicale, Hôpital Bichat Claude Bernard, Assistance Publique - Hôpitaux de paris, Paris 7 University (Denis Diderot), 46 rue Henri-Huchard, 75877 Paris Cedex 18, France

2 Department of Thoracic Surgery, Hôpital Bichat-Claude Bernard, Assistance Publique - Hôpitaux de paris, Paris 7 University (Denis Diderot), 46 rue Henri-Huchard, 75877 Paris Cedex 18, France

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Critical Care 2011, 15:220  doi:10.1186/cc10022

Published: 20 April 2011


Purulent pericarditis (PP) is a potentially life-threatening disease. Reported mortality rates are between 20 and 30%. Constrictive pericarditis occurs over the course of PP in at least 3.5% of cases. The frequency of persistent PP (chronic or recurrent purulent pericardial effusion occurring despite drainage and adequate antibiotherapy) is unknown because this entity was not previously classified as a complication of PP. No consensus exists on the optimal management of PP. Nevertheless, the cornerstone of PP management is complete eradication of the focus of infection. In retrospective studies, compared to simple drainage, systematic pericardiectomy provided a prevention of constrictive pericarditis with better clinical outcome. Because of potential morbidity associated with pericardiectomy, intrapericardial fibrinolysis has been proposed as a less invasive method for prevention of persistent PP and constrictive pericarditis. Experimental data demonstrate that fibrin formation, which occurs during the first week of the disease, is an essential step in the evolution to constrictive pericarditis and persistent PP. We reviewed the literature using the MEDLINE database. We evaluated the clinical efficacy, outcome, and complications of pericardial fibrinolysis. Seventy-four cases of fibrinolysis in PP were analysed. Pericarditis of tuberculous origin were excluded. Among the 40 included cases, only two treated by late fibrinolysis encountered failure requiring pericardiectomy. No patient encountered clinical or echocardiographic features of constriction during follow-up. Only one serious complication was described. Despite the lack of definitive evidence, potential benefits of fibrinolysis as a less invasive alternative to surgery in the management of PP seem promising. Early consideration should be given to fibrinolysis in order to prevent both constrictive and persistent PP. Nevertheless, in case of failure of fibrinolysis, pericardiectomy remains the primary option for complete eradication of infection.