What is a pleural effusion?

Thin membranes, called pleura, line the surface of your lungs and the inside of your chest wall. There are normally a few ounces of watery fluid are in the pleural space. This fluid allows your lungs to move smoothly in your chest cavity when you breathe.
A pleural effusion is when fluid builds up in the space between the layers of your pleura. This excess fluid is caused by irritation, inflammation, or infection of the pleura. This can be related to the following:

  • Certain cancers
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Decreased liver function
  • Kidney disease
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Pneumonia
  • Open heart surgery

What are the symptoms of a pleural effusion?

Symptoms of pleural effusion include, but are not limited to:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Increased difficulty breathing when lying down

What imaging is done to diagnose a pleural effusion?

Your provider should perform a physical exam including listening to your lungs with a stethoscope. If a pleural effusion is suspected, your provider will most likely order a chest x-ray or CT scan of the chest to make a final diagnosis.

What intervention/treatment can be performed for pleural effusions?

Initially, diuretics and antibiotics may be used to treat a pleural effusion. Most commonly the fluid will need to be drained by a minimally invasive procedure called thoracentesis.
Learn more about thoracentesis here.

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