Pleural Effusion – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is pleural effusion?
A pleural effusion is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity is the area between the layers of tissue that line the lungs and the chest cavity. The body produces a small amount of pleural fluid to help lubricate the surfaces of the lungs and chest cavity. Pleural effusion occurs due to excessive collection of this fluid.
What causes pleural effusion?
There are two types of pleural effusion; transudative pleural effusion and exudative pleural effusion. Transudative pleural effusion is caused by fluid leaking into the pleural cavity. This occurs due to increased pressure in the blood vessels or a low blood protein count. Congestive heart failure is the most common cause of this. Exudative effusion is caused by blocked blood vessels or lymph vessels, inflammation, lung injury, and tumors.
The following are the risk factors for pleural effusion:
- Smoking and drinking alcohol
- History of high blood pressure
- History of exposure or contact with asbestos
What are the symptoms of pleural effusion?
Some people with pleural effusion exhibit no symptoms. This condition in these people is usually diagnosed by physical examination or x-rays performed due to other reasons.
The symptoms of pleural effusion can include any of the following:
- Sharp chest pain that is worse with a cough or deep breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Fever and chills
How is pleural effusion diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and review your symptoms. The exam includes listening to your lungs with a stethoscope and tapping your chest and upper back. Usually, the doctor can diagnose the condition with help of a chest CT scan or a chest x-ray
Your doctor may remove (aspiration) a sample of the fluid from the pleural cavity for testing. These tests are done to check for the following:
- Cancer cells
- Protein levels
The doctor may also order some blood tests to check if there are any other abnormalities, such as infections or anemia. The blood tests can include:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Kidney function blood tests
- Liver function blood tests
Depending on the necessity, the doctor may also order the following other tests:
- Echocardiogram to check for heart failure
- Lung biopsy to check for cancer
- Bronchoscopy to check the airways for problems or cancer
How is pleural effusion treated?
The immediate goal of treatment would be to remove the fluid and prevent fluid from building up again. Thereafter, depending on the diagnosis, the doctor will treat the cause of the fluid buildup.
The excess fluid is removed by a procedure called thoracentesis. Removing the fluid allows the lung to expand, making breathing easier.
Thereafter, the doctor will treat the cause of the pleural effusion appropriately to prevent fluid buildup in the future.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.