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Pleural Effusion

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Pleural EffusionPleural effusion is a build up of fluid between the pleura layers surrounding the lungs. The pleurasarethe thin membranes that surround the lungs and the chest cavity. They help keep the lungs lubricated and  help with breathing. The fluid present is in very small amount as compared to the large volume of fluid present during pleural effusion.

Definition of Pleural Effusion

The buildup of fluid in the pleural space, that is, the area between the two tissues lining the lungs and the chest cavity. The condition is also called as pulmonary effusion. There are two types of fluid that can lead to pleural effusion. These include the transudate (protein-poor) or exudate (protein-rich)

Transudate is the fluid that contains the ultraflitrates of the plasma. This happens due to an imbalance between the force exerted by the fluid against the capillary wall and the pressure exerted by proteins in the plasma.

Exudate is the fluid that is produced by inflammatory conditions like cancer or lung infections. This fluid can lead to severe complications and is difficult to treat as compared to transudate.

Symptoms of Pleural Effusion

In many cases, the patient shows no symptoms for pleural effusion. The common signs and symptoms of pleural effusion include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever with chills or sweating
  • Inability to breath, if one is not sitting or standing straight

Causes for Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is a very common condition and can occur due to many causes. There are two types of fluids that may develop in the pleura, depending on the causes. These include protein poor or tansudative or protein-rich, that is, exudative.

Causes of Transudative Pleural Effusion

  • Heart failure
  • Pulmonary emobilsm
  • Cirrhosis
  • Complication of an open heart surgery
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Meig’s syndrome
  • Hypoproteinemia

Causes of Exudative Pleural Effusion

  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Kidney diseases
  • Cancer (lung cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma)
  • Rheumatoid pleuritis
  • Viral infection

There are other conditions that can lead to pleural effusion. These include:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chest trauma that leads to bleeding
  • Tuberculosis
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Radiation they

Diagnosis of Pleural Effusion

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Diagnosis is carried out based on certain test results such as:

  • Chest X ray
  • Chest ultrasound
  • Thoracentesis (biopsy of the fluid between the chest)
  • Pleural fluid analysis
  • CT Scan

Treatment for Pleural Effusion

The treatment depends on the underlying cause of pleural effusion. Generally, the treatment involves:

  • Draining fluid from the chest cavity with the help of a small tube or needle inserted into the chest.
  • Pleurodesis, that is, injecting a drug like talc in the area from where the excess fluid is drained from the chest cavity
  • In severe cases of fluid buildup, a surgery is performed and a small tube is insertedinto the chest cavity. The fluid is then directed towards the abdomen, from where it can be removed easily.
  • Use of diuretics and heart medications to treat the condition due to congestive heart failure

Complications of Pleural Effusion

In some cases, pleural effusion can lead to serious complications. These include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Partial collapse of the lung
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shock

Pleural effusion is usually due to an underlying condition. With treatment of the underlying condition, pleural effusion can get cured. However, speak to your doctor regarding this condition and its effects on your individual health.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015

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