Postoperative mediastinitis is defined as an infection of the organs and tissues in the mediastinal space, with an incidence ranging between 0.4% and 5% of cases. This disease severity varies from infection of superficial tissues in the chest wall to fulminant mediastinitis with sternal involvement. Diagnostic criterion for postoperative detection of acute mediastinitis at computed tomography is the presence of fluid collections and gas in the mediastinal space, which might or might not be associated with peristernal abnormalities such as edema of soft tissues, separation of sternal segments with marginal bone resorption, sclerosis and osteomyelitis. Other associated findings include lymphadenomegaly, pulmonary consolidation and pleural/pericardial effusion. Some of these findings, such as mediastinal gas and small fluid collections can be typically found in the absence of infection, early in the period following thoracic surgery where the effectiveness of computed tomography is limited. After approximately two weeks, computed tomography achieves almost 100% sensitivity and specificity. Patients with clinical suspicion of mediastinitis should be submitted to computed tomography for investigating the presence of fluid collections to identify the extent and nature of the disease. Multidetector computed tomography allows 3D images reconstruction, contributing particularly to the evaluation of the sternum.
Acute mediastinitis; Postoperative infection; Mediastinitis