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pleural effusion

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The lining of the chest cavity (pleura)

A pleural effusion is an abnormal collection of fluid around the lungs.

What is going on in the body?
Normally, a very small amount of fluid surrounds the lungs, keeping them lubricated. This fluid allows the lungs to collapse and expand easily when a person breathes. Sometimes, the amount of fluid increases to an abnormal level. This can happen for various reasons.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Symptoms often depend on the underlying cause of the fluid build up. Symptoms may include: What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are a number of causes for pleural effusion. These can include: What can be done to prevent the condition?
Pleural effusion from congestive heart failure can be prevented by taking prescribed medications and adhering to a diet low in sodium. Lung cancer, which may cause pleural effusion, can be prevented by not smoking in most cases. Many cases of pleural effusion cannot be prevented.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The doctor will review the person's symptoms, perform a physical examination, and do a chest x-ray.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
If a pleural effusion is not treated, more fluid may accumulate. This may result in serious breathing problems. The underlying condition causing the pleural effusion may result in permanent lung damage.

What are the risks to others?
Some infections that cause pleural effusion, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, can be passed to others.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment for pleural effusion depends on the underlying cause of the condition. congestive heart failure can be treated with medications. Infections can be treated with antibiotics. Inflammation can be treated with medications to reduce inflammation. In all of these cases, the effusion will often go away after treatment. For cancer and trauma, the fluid often must be drained. A tube is inserted through the skin and into the chest cavity for this procedure. Surgery and chemotherapy may also be needed to treat the underlying cause of the pleural effusion in these cases.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Medications can cause side effects such as allergic reactions and stomach upset. Specific side effects depend on the medication used. Surgery and insertion of a tube into the chest carry the risk of bleeding, infection, and death.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
If the underlying condition is successfully treated and the effusion clears up, the person can return to normal activities. If the underlying condition is not remedied or the effusion remains, further treatment and monitoring are needed.

How is the condition monitored?
The condition is generally monitored with repeat physical examinations and chest x-rays.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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