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Can J Anaesth. 2011 Sep;58(9):853-9, 860-7. doi: 10.1007/s12630-011-9539-x. Epub 2011 Jul 21.

Anesthetic management of patients with an anterior mediastinal mass: continuing professional development.

[Article in English, French]

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Department of Anesthesiology, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA, USA.



Many cases have been reported of hemodynamic and airway collapse induced by general anesthesia in patients with an anterior mediastinal mass. We examined the literature for predictors of perioperative risk, guidelines for preoperative investigations, and strategies for management of the patient with a mediastinal mass.


In patients with an anterior mediastinal mass, symptoms may range from none to severe and may include orthopnea, stridor, cyanosis, jugular vein distension, or superior vena cava syndrome. In limited case series, incidences of serious complications up to 20% were noted, but these are primarily pediatric studies with unclear relevance to adults. There is a paucity of evidence providing guidance on quantifying risk and planning the safe conduct of anesthesia. In the largest adult case series to date, intraoperative complications were associated only with the preoperative presence of a pericardial effusion. Postoperative complications were predicted by severe symptoms at presentation, tracheal compression of > 50%, and a mixed obstructive-restrictive picture on pulmonary function testing. Low-risk patients tolerate conventional general anesthesia with neuromuscular blockade and positive pressure ventilation. Those at intermediate or high risk are best managed with the maintenance of spontaneous ventilation, at least initially. Cardiopulmonary bypass remains the option of last resort.


It appears prudent to avoid general anesthesia when possible for patients at the highest risk. When general anesthesia is required, a comprehensive plan must be formulated preoperatively with the surgical team. Cardiopulmonary bypass requires time for implementation, so it should be considered early and appropriate preparations should be made prior to the initiation of anesthesia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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