What is Pleural Effusion?

Certain conditions can lead to fluid filling the space between the lungs and chest wall (called the pleural space). Sometimes this is called “water in the lungs.” This problem is very common, and caused by many different factors such as infections, liver disease, heart disease, and cancer. Some medications may also lead to this problem.
A Patient’s Perspective
Learn what one patient has to say about the Lourdes Cardiovascular Institute.

  • The pleura are thin membranes that line the inside of the chest and the lungs.
  • The pleura lubricates the lungs and the chest.
  • Many different conditions increase the likelihood of fluid building up (called effusion) in this space. They include lung cancer, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary embolism, among others.
  • If enough fluid builds up, the lungs can become separated from the chest wall.

  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing

  • By taking a small sample of fluid from the chest cavity, a needle biopsy allows our specialists to determine the best course of antibiotics for a patient’s condition.
  • A needle can also be inserted into the chest cavity to withdraw fluid and reduce pressure on the lungs.
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is a minimally invasive approach that can be used to remove abnormal tissue that is restricting the lung or causing fluid build-up.

How We Can Help

Our physicians make every effort to treat this condition without surgery, whenever possible. For example, they may use needle biopsy to take a sample of the fluid and may initiate antibiotic therapy. Or they may insert a temporary drainage tube to reduce the symptoms of fluid accumulation. The tube is sometimes attached to a suction pump to gently pull the fluid out of the chest cavity.

If conservative and less-invasive approaches are not effective, a patient may need a surgical intervention. Our highly experienced thoracic surgeons may use video-assisted thoracoscopic or robotic surgery to remove or reduce the fluid or resect any abnormal tissue that is restricting the lung or causing the fluid build-up.