Pleural Effusion - Institute for Respiratory Health

Pleural Effusion

What is pleural effusion

A pleural effusion is an abnormal build-up of fluid around your lungs. This can cause pressure on the lungs, making breathing difficult. It can be a sign of serious illness. There are two main types of pleural effusion.

Malignant pleural effusion
Malignant pleural effusion is a condition in which cancer causes an abnormal amount of fluid to collect in the pleura.

Pleural infection (empyema)
Pleural infection (empyema) within the pleural cavity is a common and an increasing clinical problem, especially in the elderly and in childhood. Bacteria in the pleural space can lead to pleural effusion and/or the collection of pus.

Pleural effusion symptoms

If you have a pleural effusion, you might have:

  • A cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A fever
  • Pain in your chest

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and give you a physical exam. You may need a number of imaging tests to be undertaken to confirm the diagnosis.

Causes of pleural effusion

A pleural effusion can be caused by many different conditions including:

  • Blockage of a major blood vessel
  • Cancer
  • Chest injury
  • Heart failure
  • Infections such as pneumonia
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease.

Pleural effusion treatment

The treatment for pleural effusion depends on the cause and its severity.

If the pleural effusion is small and not causing any problems, then it might be left alone while the cause, such as heart failure or infection is treated. Treating the cause will often make the pleural effusion disappear.

If the pleural effusion is making you short of breath, you might need to have it drained.

If the effusion keeps coming back, there are ways to stop it recurring. Have a talk with your general practitioner who will look at different treatment solutions for you.

Pleural effusion research

Pleural effusion research helps us understand how the disease is caused, how it develops and how it can be best treated.

The Pleural Medicine Unit, headed up by Professor Gary Lee, are looking for ways to help people who have complications from fluid build-up in the pleural space.

Professor Lee and his team have developed a new treatment where an indwelling pleural catheter (IPC) is placed in a patient’s chest, allowing excess fluid to be drained. This treatment plan is non-evasive and can be done at home instead of having to go into hospital.

To control breathlessness and pain, a non-evasive procedure called an IPCs is carried out. An IPC is a small tube which drains fluid from the area around your lungs called the pleural space. The IPC stays in place permanently or for as long as needed, so that the fluid can be drained easily and avoids further invasive procedures, for example the repeated use of needles to drain the fluid.

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