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Alternative namesFluid in the chest; Pleural Fluid
DefinitionA pleural effusion is an accumulation of fluid between the layers of the membrane that lines the lungs and chest cavity.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Pleural fluid is normally formed in small amounts to lubricate the surfaces of the "pleura," which is the thin membrane that lines the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs. A "pleural effusion" is an abnormal collection of this fluid.
Note: There may be no symptoms.
Signs and tests
During a physical examination, the doctor will listen to the sound of your breathing with a stethoscope and may tap on your chest to listen for dullness.
Treatment may be directed at removing the fluid, preventing its re-accumulation, or addressing the underlying cause of the fluid buildup.
Therapeutic thoracentesis may be done if the fluid collection is large and causing pressure or shortness of breath . Treatment of the underlying cause of the effusion then becomes the goal.
For example, pleural effusions caused by congestive heart failure are treated with diuretics and other medications that treat heart failure. Pleural effusions caused by infection are treated with antibiotics specific to the causative organism. In patients with cancer or infections, the effusion is often treated by using a chest tube to drain the fluid. Chemotherapy , radiation therapy , or instilling medication within the chest that prevents re-accumulation of fluid after drainage may be used in some cases.
Expectations (prognosis)The expected outcome depends upon the underlying disease.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if symptoms suggestive of pleural effusion develop.
Update Date: 11/10/2002Darrell N. Kotton, M.D., Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT