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Thoracentesis (say "thor-uh-sen-TEE-sis") is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This is called the pleural space. The 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, and lung cancer. The procedure may be done to help with shortness of breath and pain caused by the fluid buildup, or you may have it done so the doctor can test the fluid to find the cause of the buildup.
Your doctor will put a long, thin needle or a thin plastic tube, called a catheter, between two of your ribs. The doctor will use the needle or catheter to take fluid out.
You may get medicine before the procedure. This helps with pain and helps you relax. The procedure will take about 15 minutes. Most people go home shortly after. You can go back to work or your normal activities as soon as you feel up to it.
If the doctor sends the fluid to a lab for testing, it usually takes a few hours to get the results. Some of the test results may take a few days. The doctor or nurse will discuss the results with you.
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.
Build healthy habits into your life. Changes are best made several weeks before the procedure, since your body may react to sudden changes in your habits.
If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. If you do not have one, you may want to prepare one so your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors recommend that everyone prepare these papers before a procedure, regardless of the type of procedure or condition. Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect and it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.
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Adaptation Date: 2/24/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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