What is pleural effusion?

29 July 2016
Comments: 0
29 July 2016, Comments: 0

Pleural effusion is simply known as “water on the lung” in which there is significant accumulation of fluid in between the lungs and the chest cavity. Remember that there is always a minimal amount of liquid within the lungs which coats the membranes lining the exterior of the lungs as well as lubricating the chest cavity to facilitate breathing.

There are certain health conditions that can cause this fluid to accumulate in between the chest cavity and the lungs.

How pleural effusion develops

If the pleura is infected or irritated, it produces excess fluid. The fluid builds up in the chest cavity outside the lung, thus resulting to pleural effusion.

There are certain forms of cancer such as ovarian, lung or breast cancers that can lead to the condition. Take note that fluid can build up due to some treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Other possible causes include the following

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Cirrhosis
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Pulmonary embolism

    Pleural effusion

    Some of the indications of pleural effusion include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing when lying down.

  • Post-open heart surgery

What are the indications?

Some individuals do not have any symptoms at all. In such cases, they only find out about the condition after a chest X-ray or physical examination for other reasons. The usual signs and symptoms of pleural effusion include the following:

A doctor should be consulted right away if an individual show any of the symptoms so that further assessment can be carried out.

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor will perform a physical examination and listen to the lungs using a stethoscope. A chest X-ray is also requested to help with a diagnosis or any of the following:

  • Chest ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Pleural fluid analysis


Remember that the underlying cause of the condition as well as the severity are used to determine the suitable treatment.

Drainage of fluid

Essentially, the treatment involves draining of the fluid from the chest cavity either using a needle or inserting a small tube into the chest. A local anesthetic is administered before the procedure. The individual should still expect some pain or discomfort at the incision site after the anesthetic starts to wear off. Pain medications are usually prescribed to minimize the pain. The procedure might be repeated if the fluid builds up again.


This treatment is started after drainage of the excess fluid from the chest cavity. Once the fluid is removed, the doctor administers a drug into the area. This causes the 2 pleural layers to adhere together and prevents the accumulation of fluid between them.


In severe cases, the doctor might recommend surgery which involves the insertion of a shunt into the chest cavity. The shunt redirects the fluid from the chest to the abdomen, where it can be easily eliminated.

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