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Pleural Effusion: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)


What is pleural effusion?

Pleural effusion is an excessive buildup of fluid between your lungs and chest cavity. It’s normal to have a small amount of fluids in the lungs to lubricate the membranes that allow the lungs to slide smoothly against the lung cavity. Too much fluids buildup can lead to pressure on the lungs, making breathing difficult.

How common is pleural effusion?

This health condition can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of pleural effusion?

You may feel some chest pain but a pleural effusion is often painless. The common symptoms of pleural effusion are:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

You will also experience symptoms of the underlying causes of fluid buildup.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes pleural effusion?

Pleural effusion is caused by an irritation or infection in the lungs. Many medical conditions can lead to pleural effusion, such as:

  • Lung infection (pneumonia), tuberculosis, and cancers may cause inflammation of the lung and pleura.
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cirrhosis (poor liver function)
  • Pulmonary embolism: blockage in the lung arteries.
  • Severe kidney disease can affect how theretain fluids in body.
  • Lupus and other autoimmune conditions

Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer or post-open-heart surgery can lead to pleural effusion.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for pleural effusion?

There are many risk factors for pleural effusion, such as:

  • Having the mentioned medical conditions.
  • Under cancer treatment or medication that can affect how your body retain fluids.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is pleural effusion diagnosed?

Pleural effusion is diagnosed when you take a physical exam. Your doctor might listen to your lungs with a stethoscope or tapping on the chest (percussion). Some imaging tests can show how much fluids buildup in the lungs, such as x-ray or CT scan.

A test called pleural fluid analysis or thoracentesis involves putting a small needle in your pleural membrane and take a small sample of the fluids. This will tell if the fluid buildup is caused by an infection or by some other conditions. The sample will also be tested for cancer cells and protein level.

How is pleural effusion treated?

Treatment for pleural effusion includes treating the underlying cause and reducing discomfort symptoms on patients. Depending on the condition that cause fluid buildup, treatment may vary. Antibiotics are used when there is an infectious cause, whereby diuretics may be used to slowly help reduce the size of the pleural effusion.

The fluid often doesn’t need to be treated itself, as it will go away if the underlying cause is treated. If the fluid buildup cause discomfort, your doctor will drain the fluids by pleural fluid aspiration or pleural tap.

Some other treatment to relieve buildup are:

  • A special fluid will be injected into your membrane area, causing a small inflammation. This helps to prevent fluid building up again into an effusion. Sclerosing chemicals that are commonly used include tetracycline, sterile talc and bleomycin. Pleurodesis is most often used in the treatment of repeated (recurrent) effusions caused by cancer.
  • Leaving a permanent drain in place so the fluid can drain out as and when it forms.
  • An operation to insert a shunt (like an internal drain) to allow the fluid to drain out from the chest into the tummy (abdominal) cavity.
  • This is an operation to remove the pleura. It is sometimes used in people with effusions due to cancer when other treatment options have failed.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage pleural effusion?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with pleural effusion:

  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • If you are under cancer treatment, discuss with your doctor about possible side effects and how to avoid or manage them.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you. Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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