It occurs when there is a build up of fluids between the lungs and the chest cavity

Emobileclinic Trending Topic: Pleural Effussion

Pleural effusion, also called “water on the lung,” is an excessive buildup of fluid between the lungs and chest cavity. There is always a small amount of liquid inside the lungs. This fluid works to coat the membranes (pleura) that line the outside of your lungs and lubricate the chest cavity to aid in breathing.  It is the most common manifestation of pleural disease. 


A massive effusion is often attributable to an underlying malignancy. Other conditions that must be considered include the following:

Congestive heart failure

Tuberculosis (TB)

Cirrhosis with ascites

Chronic pancreatitis

How Does Pleural Effusion Develop?

The pleura create too much fluid when it’s irritated or infected. This fluid accumulates in the chest cavity outside the lung, causing what is known as pleural effusion.

Certain types of cancer, such as lung, breast, and ovarian cancers, can cause pleural effusions. Fluid also may build up as a result of certain cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Other causes of pleural effusion include:

Congestive heart failure

Cirrhosis (poor liver function)

Pulmonary embolism (blockage in the lung arteries caused by a blood clot)

Post-open-heart surgery


Severe kidney disease

Symptoms of Pleural Effusion

Common symptoms of pleural effusion include:

Dry cough


Difficulty breathing when lying down

Chest pain

Shortness of breath

Diagnosing Pleural Effusion

The doctor will perform a physical examination and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. They may also order a chest X-ray to help diagnosis pleural effusion, or one of the following tests:

CT scan

Chest ultrasound

Pleural fluid analysis (or thoracentesis)

Treating Pleural Effusion

The underlying cause of the condition and the severity of the effusion will determine treatment.

Fluid drainage:  this involves draining the fluid from the chest cavity, either with a needle or a small tube inserted into the chest. 

Pleurodesis: this occurs after drawing excess fluid out of the chest cavity. When the fluid is removed, a doctor injects a drug (typically talc) into the area. This causes the two layers of the pleura to stick together and prevents the buildup of fluid between the two layers.

Surgery: in more serious cases, a doctor surgically inserts a shunt (small tube) into the chest cavity. This helps redirect the fluid from the chest to the abdomen, where it can be easily removed.

 Pleurectomy:  in which part of the pleural lining is surgically removed, is also an option in very severe cases.


Treatment for minor cases of pleural effusion is minimally invasive. Most people recover within a few days. Minor complications from treatment include slight pain and discomfort, which often go away with time. Some cases of pleural effusion can have more serious complications, depending on the severity of the condition and treatment used.

Serious complications include:

Pulmonary edema or fluid in the lungs, which can result from draining too much fluid through Thoracentisis

Partial collapsed lung

Infection or bleeding

Low blood pressure, which can result from draining fluid too rapidly



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