What is pleural effusion?
The pleura (PLOOR-ah) are thin layers of tissue that form a two-layered lining around the lungs. One layer of the pleura rests directly on the lungs. The other layer rests on the chest wall. Between these layers there is a small amount of fluid, called pleural (PLOO-ral) fluid. This fluid helps your lungs move easily when you breathe. Sometimes extra fluid collects in the space between the two pleural layers. This is called pleural effusion (e-FU-zhun).
What causes pleural effusion?
Many different things can cause pleural effusion. Heart failure or other heart and lung problems may cause pleural effusion. Infections (in-FECK-shuns) such as pneumonia (noo-MOH-nyah) or tuberculosis (TB) may cause pleural effusion. Inflammation of the pleura, called pleurisy (PLOOR-i-see), may cause pleural effusion. Other causes may include cancer, injury, or problems with other organs in your chest or abdomen (belly).
What are the signs and symptoms of pleural effusion?
A pleural effusion may cause you to cough or feel short of breath. You may breathe faster than usual. You may have chest pain that starts or gets worse when you breathe in. The pain may hurt the most when you take a deep breath or cough. The pain can range from mild to severe (very bad). Depending on the cause of your pleural effusion, you may have other symptoms, such as a fever. You may have no symptoms at all.
How is pleural effusion diagnosed?
Your caregiver will examine you and listen to your heart and lungs through a stethoscope (STETH-oh-skohp). You may need blood tests, a chest x-ray, a CT ("cat") scan, or an ultrasound of the chest. Ask your caregiver for more information about other tests that you may need.
How is pleural effusion treated?
- The treatment you receive may depend on what is causing your pleural effusion and how bad your symptoms are. You may need medicines such as antibiotics (an-ti-bi-AH-tiks) to prevent or treat a bacterial (bak-TEE-ree-al) infection. Steroids and other kinds of medicines may be given to decrease inflammation. You may need medicines for pain. Diuretic (deye-yoo-RET-ik) medicine may help you lose extra fluid caused by heart failure or other problems. You may need to have the extra pleural fluid removed by having a thoracentesis (thohr-ah-sen-TEE-sis) or a chest tube. During a thoracentesis, a needle is used to remove the extra pleural fluid from around a lung. This fluid may be sent to the lab for tests. A thoracentesis may help you breathe easier, and help your caregiver find the best way to treat you. A chest tube is a tube that stays in your chest for days or weeks. This lets the extra fluid around your lung drain out over time. You may need medicines put directly into your chest if the fluid does not drain out easily.
- Some people have pleural effusions that come back over and over. For example, a tumor (growth) may cause extra fluid to keep collecting around a lung. If your pleural effusion keeps coming back or if it increases your risk for other problems, you may need surgery or other treatments. Ask your caregiver for more information about other treatments that you may need.
A pleural effusion may cause or worsen a lung infection, such as pneumonia. The extra fluid may get infected and form a pocket of pus, which is called empyema (em-peye-EE-ma). You may have other problems, such as a collapsed lung. The problems you may have depend on what is causing your pleural effusion. Talk to your caregiver about any concerns you may have about your illness or treatment.
For more information:
Contact the following for more information about pleural effusion and other lung problems:
- American Lung Association
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington , DC 20004
Phone: 1- 202 - 785-3355
Phone: 1- 800 - 548-8252
Web Address: www.lung.org
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta , GA 30333
Phone: 1- 404 - 6393311
Phone: 1- 800 - 3113435
Web Address: http://www.cdc.gov
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