Learning About Pleural Effusion

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What is pleural effusion?

Pleural effusion (say "PLER-uhl eh-FYOO-zhun") is the buildup of fluid in the space between tissues lining the lungs and chest wall. Because of the fluid buildup, the lungs may not be able to expand completely, which can make it hard to breathe. The lung, or part of it, may collapse.

Pleural effusion has many causes, such as pneumonia, cancer, inflammation of the tissues around the lungs, and heart failure.

Pleural effusion is usually diagnosed with an X-ray and a physical examination. The doctor listens to the air flow in your lungs.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of pleural effusion may include:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fever.
  • A cough.

Minor pleural effusion may not cause any symptoms.

How is pleural effusion treated?

Doctors may need to treat the condition that is causing pleural effusion. For example, you may get medicines to treat pneumonia or congestive heart failure. Minor pleural effusion often goes away on its own without treatment.

Removing fluid

Pleural effusion can be treated by removing fluid from the space between the tissues around the lungs. This is done with a needle that's put into the chest (thoracentesis). A small amount of the fluid may be sent to a lab to find out what is causing the buildup of fluid.

Removing the fluid may help to relieve symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain. It can help the lungs to expand more fully.

In some cases, if pleural effusion doesn't get better, a catheter may be placed in the chest. This is a flexible tube that allows fluid to drain from the lungs. The catheter stays in the chest until the doctor removes it. Some people may get a treatment that removes the fluid and then puts a medicine into the chest cavity. This helps to prevent too much fluid from building up again.

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 call line 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.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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