The characteristics and significance of thoracic lymphadenopathy in parapneumonic effusion and empyema.
Kearney SE., Davies CW., Tattersall DJ., Gleeson FV.
The occurrence of significant mediastinal lymphadenopathy together with pleural effusion or empyema inevitably raises concern about the presence of intrathoracic malignancy or granulomatous disease. Lymph node enlargement may also occur when pneumonia is accompanied by a parapneumonic effusion or empyema. Features that allow "benign" lymph node enlargement to be distinguished from malignant causes have not previously been determined. The present study aims to establish the CT characteristics of enlarged nodes in parapneumonic effusion. The appearances of mediastinal lymph nodes were recorded in 50 consecutive patients with parapneumonic effusion/empyema. 18 (36%) had mediastinal lymphadenopathy (node size greater than 1 cm). The mean number of enlarged nodes was 1.9 (range 1-3) and the mean size was 1.4 cm (2 cm maximum). Seven patients had a single involved site, nine patients two sites and two patients three sites. The right paratracheal area was most commonly involved and the subcarinal area contained the largest nodes. The presence of enlarged nodes did not correlate with biochemical and microbiological stage of pleural infection, length of history, or extent of consolidation. This study shows that mediastinal lymphadenopathy is commonly associated with parapneumonic effusion and that multiple sites may be involved. The degree of enlargement is moderate although lymphadenopathy of greater than 2 cm size should raise the possibility of other pathology.