Treatment of postoperative high-volume lymphatic complications using isosulfan blue

Michael C. Bounds, Eric D. Endean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Lymphocele (LC) and lymphocutaneous fistula (LF) are infrequent but serious complications that occur when lymphatics are disrupted during a vascular procedure. Conservative management with bed rest, extremity elevation, aspiration, and pressure dressing is often ineffective. This study evaluated the effectiveness of isosulfan blue (ISB) to identify disrupted lymphatics for ligation. Methods: Between 1998 and 2016, there were 33 lymphatic complications treated with ISB-directed ligation in 32 patients. The patients’ records were retrospectively reviewed, recording demographics, comorbid conditions, index vascular operation causing the lymphatic complication, details of the procedure done to treat the lymphatic complication, and outcomes. In each patient, between 1 and 3 mL of ISB was injected in the subcutaneous tissue of the interdigital web space. The wound associated with the lymphatic complication was opened. The appearance of dye within the wound identified disrupted lymphatic ducts for suture ligation. Results: The lymphatic complications were either LC (11 [33%]) or LF (22 [66%]) and were associated with femoral vein harvest (9), great saphenous vein harvest (8), exposure of femoral arteries (13), creation of an upper extremity fistula (1), repeated femoral access for coronary angiography, or excision of an LC (1). Most patients were male (66%), and the mean age was 56.8 ± 13.1 years. In comparing patients with LF and LC, the diagnosis of LF was made earlier (13.8 ± 7.0 days vs 23.4 ± 14.1 days; P =.02), and treatment occurred sooner for LF than for LC (22.1 ± 8.1 days vs 48.8 ± 51.2 days; P =.02). In all patients, ISB identified one or more disrupted lymphatics. The appearance of the ISB dye within the wound after injection was rapid, often within 5 to 10 minutes. After ligation of the lymphatics, most wounds were closed primarily (26 [79%]), but a muscle flap (5 [15%]), negative pressure dressing (1 [3%]), and dressing changes (1 [3%]) were also used. Wound healing was achieved in all patients on average 32.5 ± 21.5 days after lymphatic ligation. Conclusions: The current series is one of the largest reported experiences using ISB to identify injured lymphatics responsible for LC or LF. Lymphatic complications after a vascular procedure usually occur within 3 weeks of the index vascular procedure, with LF being identified and treated earlier than LC. ISB injection rapidly identifies disrupted extremity lymphatics. Ligation of these lymphatics results in reliable resolution of the lymphatic complication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-740
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Vascular Surgery: Venous and Lymphatic Disorders
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Isosulfan blue
  • Lymphatic complication
  • Lymphatic fistula
  • Lymphocele

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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