Pleural effusion


Pleural effusion is extra fluid around the lung. This often causes shortness of breath as the lung gets compressed from the fluid. The reasons for effusion are many, and the specific diagnosis is often based upon tap or drainage of the fluid.


The pleura is a thin membrane that lines the surface of the lungs and the chest wall outside the lungs. With pleural effusion, fluid collects in the space between the layers of pleura. Usually a teaspoon amount of fluid is found in the pleural space, which lets the lungs expand and contract during the breathing process. There are a number of conditions that can cause pleural effusion, including:

  • Cancer
  • Congestive heart failure
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Lupus and other autoimmune conditions
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism

Excess fluids may collect because the body cannot handle the fluid properly. It may also be caused by inflammation, such as in pneumonia, autoimmune disease, and many other conditions.


  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

Our approach

Surgical treatment of pleural effusion may include chest tube drainage or surgery to drain and examine the chest cavity. The treatment is often done with a video camera and small incisions between the ribs. Options for treatment of the effusion are multiple and are chosen based upon the patient’s condition.


The goal of treatment is to remove the fluid, prevent future fluid buildup and determine and treat the original cause of the fluid buildup. There are many treatment options, chosen based on the patient’s condition.

Treatment may include surgery to drain and examine the chest cavity, which is done by inserting a tiny video camera through small incisions made between the ribs. Removing the fluid (thoracentesis) is done if a lot of fluid is present and causing chest pressure, shortness of breath or other breathing problems such as a low oxygen level. Removing the fluid allows the lungs to expand, making breathing easier.

Other options are:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Putting medication into the chest to prevent a return of fluid buildup again after drainage
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery

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