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What Is the Thoracic Duct?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The thoracic duct is a vessel that functions as the means of collecting and channeling lymph from parts of the body found below the diaphragm. In addition, this duct also collects lymph from the upper left side of the body. It empties into the venous system, specifically at the point where the left internal jugular vein and the left subclavian meet.

Thoracic duct drainage is key to the proper function of the body. In the event that a problem arises to interfere with the drainage process, a number of health issues can arise. This is because the drainage of lymph through the duct helps to cleanse the cells of the body. When this process is not taking place, the potential for the collection of lymph at the point of obstruction can result in the creation of malignancies at various locations throughout the upper left portion of the body or the area below the diaphragm. Depending on the nature of the growth, the individual may suffer a wide range of symptoms, including fevers, nausea, or difficulty breathing.

Damage to the duct usually comes about due to trauma sustained in an accident or as a by-product of a surgical procedure that takes place in the general area of the duct. In both instances, one or more sections of the duct can collapse or become clogged, effectively shutting down the drainage process. When clogging occurs, the condition is often referred to as chylothorax. If not treated in a timely manner, the blockage can and often does cause additional health issues.

One means of dealing with blockage of the thoracic duct is by utilizing a treatment known as thoracic duct ligation. This is especially helpful in situations where the blockage came about due to a previous surgical procedure. In recent years, some physicians have recommended utilizing this treatment as a precaution to a possible blockage due to some other surgery. For example, the ligation may take place at the same time the patient undergoes an oesophagectomy, an action that minimizes the chance of blockage occurring in the duct during the recovery period.

Ligation may also be used to drain a clogged thoracic duct in the event of an accident. Many physicians recommend that this procedure be used if the thoracic duct does not respond to other modes of treatment within forty-eight hours of the diagnosis of the injury. When performed as early as possible, the chances of severe health issues up to and including death taking place are significantly lessened.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including The Health Board, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By anon296835 — On Oct 13, 2012

What is the function of a thoracic duct?

By anon275077 — On Jun 15, 2012

I'm studying surgery now, and my book is pretty lame as far as technical stuff is concerned. When the thoracic duct is ligated, what happens to those to ends? Are they 'implanted' to drain elsewhere? and where?

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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