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Pleural effusion: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About pleural effusion

Pleural effusion is a term used to define the collection of fluid in the space between the lining of the lungs and the chest. Normally, the body produces a fluid called pleural fluid in small amounts whose function is to lubricate the linings of lungs (pleura). An abnormally large collection of this fluid results in pleural effusion.

Pleural effusion: Incidence, age and sex

In general, pleural effusion is commonly seen in adults and less often in children. Its incidence is estimated to be around 1.5 million cases every year and occurs with equal prevalence in both the genders.

Signs and symptoms of pleural effusion: Diagnosis

The most common symptom in pleural effusion is shortness of breath. As fluid goes on building up in the pleura, it becomes harder for the patient to breathe. It is often accompanied by sharp chest pain that worsens on deep breathing. Pain may, at times be referred to the shoulder or upper abdomen. Other associated symptoms may be seen which are due to underlying illness.

Causes and prevention of pleural effusion

There are various causes of pleural effusion. It may occur because of heart failure, liver or kidney failure wherein the fluid leaks from blood vessels into the pleural space. It can also occur due to inflammation of the pleura, which in turn may be seen in diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung cancer, breast cancer and lymphoma.

Since pleural effusion is a complication of an underlying disease, preventing the underlying cause will help prevent development of effusion.

Pleural effusion: Complications

Pleural effusion on its own, is a symptom of underlying diseases like congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, kidney failure, lung or breast cancer, pneumonia, or tuberculosis.

If left untreated, it may not allow the lungs to function fully thereby leading to breathing problems. There also can be permanent decrease in lung function. If fluid remains in the chest cavity for a longer period, there is also a risk of it becoming infected and subsequently forming an abscess.

Pleural effusion: Treatment

The treatment of pleural effusion usually lies in treating the underlying cause, which if treated or controlled, prevents the accumulation of the pleural fluid. On the other hand, pleural effusion, once developed may compromise breathing, so cardiopulmonary resuscitation is usually the first consideration to aid in breathing normally. A procedure known as thoracocentesis can be carried out on the patient to remove the collected fluid and to allow lungs to expand fully during the breathing process. Abscess formation may require drainage by needle along with long-term course of antibiotic medications.