Thoracentesis: What to Expect at Home
Thoracentesis (say "thor-uh-sen-TEE-sis") is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall (pleural space). This procedure may also be called a "chest tap." It is normal to have a small amount of fluid in the pleural space. Too much fluid can build up because of problems such as infection, heart failure, or lung cancer. The procedure may have been done to help with shortness of breath and pain caused by the fluid buildup, or you may have had this procedure so the doctor could test the fluid to find the cause of the buildup.
Your chest may be sore where the doctor put the needle or catheter into your skin (the procedure site). This usually gets better after a day or two. You can go back to work or your normal activities as soon as you feel up to it.
If a large amount of pleural fluid was removed during the procedure, you will probably be able to breathe more easily.
If more pleural fluid collects and needs to be removed, another thoracentesis may be done later.
If the doctor sent the fluid to a lab for testing, it may take several days to get the results. The doctor or nurse will discuss the results with you.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover, but each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
- You may shower. Do not take a bath until the procedure site has healed, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
- Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
- You may need to take 1 or 2 days off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
- You can eat your normal diet.
- Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. They will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you take blood thinners, ask your doctor if and when to start taking them again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
- Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Too much of these medicines can be harmful.
- If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
- Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
- Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
Care of the procedure site
- Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which may delay healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have shortness of breath that is new or getting worse.
- You have new or worse pain in your chest, especially when you take a deep breath.
- You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
- You have a fever over 38°C.
- Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your procedure site.
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the procedure site.
- Pus draining from the procedure site.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
- A fever.
- You cough up a lot more mucus than normal, or your mucus changes colour.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter Q755 in the search box to learn more about "Thoracentesis: What to Expect at Home".
Adaptation Date: 3/2/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services