The mediastinum can be seen from a frontal view in this illustration, with the superior mediastinum labeled a, and the pericardial cavity, which is part of the inferior mediastinum, labeled d.
The mediastinum lies within the thorax and is enclosed on the right and left by pleurae. It is surrounded by the chest wall in front, the lungs to the sides and the spine at the back. It extends from the sternum in front to the vertebral column behind, and contains all the organs of the thorax except the lungs. It is continuous with the loose connective tissue of the neck.
The mediastinum can be divided into an upper (or superior) and lower (or inferior) part:
The inferior mediastinum from this level to the diaphragm. This lower part is subdivided into three regions, all relative to the pericardium - the anterior mediastinum being in front of the pericardium, the middle mediastinum contains the pericardium and its contents, and the posterior mediastinum being behind the pericardium.
Anatomists, surgeons, and clinical radiologists compartmentalize the mediastinum differently. For instance, in the radiological scheme of Felson, there are only three compartments (anterior, middle, and posterior), and the heart is part of the middle (inferior) mediastinum.[page needed]
Middle mediastinum: lymphadenopathy, metastatic disease such as from small cell carcinoma from the lung.
Posterior mediastinum: Neurogenic tumors, either from the nerve sheath (mostly benign) or elsewhere (mostly malignant).
Mediastinitis is inflammation of the tissues in the mediastinum, usually bacterial and due to rupture of organs in the mediastinum. As the infection can progress very quickly, this is a serious condition.