Thoracentesis: Before Your Procedure

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What is thoracentesis?

Picture of placement of thoracentesis needle

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. But too much fluid can build up because of problems such as infection, heart failure, or lung cancer. The procedure may be done to help with shortness of breath and pain caused by the fluid buildup. Or you may have this procedure so the doctor can test the fluid to find the cause of the buildup.

Your doctor will put a long, thin needle or a hollow 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 to help with pain and to help you relax. The procedure will take about 15 minutes. Most people go home shortly after the procedure. 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 can take several days to get the results. 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 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.

What happens before the procedure?

Having a procedure can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect and how to safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Bring a list of questions to ask your doctors. It is important that you understand exactly what procedure is planned, the risks, benefits, and other options before your procedure.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia. Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your procedure.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your procedure. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before your procedure, so talk to your doctor as soon as you can.

Taking care of yourself before the procedure

  • 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.
    • Stay as active as you can.
    • Eat a healthy diet.
    • Cut back or quit alcohol and tobacco.
  • 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.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

  • Remove all jewellery and piercings.
  • Leave your valuables at home.

At the hospital, surgery centre, or doctor's office

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The doctor may take a chest X-ray or use ultrasound or CT scan pictures to help find the exact spot where fluid has built up.
  • The doctor will give you a shot of numbing medicine in the skin where the needle or catheter will go.
  • The procedure will take about 15 minutes.
  • The doctor may take a chest X-ray after the procedure.

Going home

  • You may need someone to drive you home.
  • Arrange for extra help at home after the procedure, especially if you live alone or provide care for another person.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your procedure, including activity and when you may return to work.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your procedure.
  • You become ill before the procedure (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the procedure.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

Enter U836 in the search box to learn more about "Thoracentesis: Before Your Procedure."

Current as of: May 23, 2016