Thoracentesis is a procedure to remove excess fluids from the space between the lungs and chest wall. Doctors refer to this space as the pleural space.
The pleural space normally contains about 4 teaspoons of fluid. Certain conditions, such as lung infections, heart failure and tumors, can cause fluid to build up. Excess fluids can accumulate in the pleural space and press against the lungs. This lung problem, known as pleural effusion, makes it difficult to breathe.
Lung doctors use thoracentesis to remove excess fluid from the pleural space to make breathing easier. Our pulmonologists also perform the procedure to help find the cause of pleural effusion. The most common causes of pleural effusion include lung cancer, tumors, tuberculosis, lung infections and blockage of a major blood vessel in the lungs, a condition known as pulmonary embolism. Cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation, malnutrition and liver disease may also cause pleural effusion.
Our doctors may perform the procedure for these conditions:
- Pleural effusion relating to asbestos
- Collagen vascular disease that affects connective tissue
- Drug reactions
- Hemothorax, a type of pleural effusion where blood accumulates in the pleural space
- Thyroid disease
The Thoracentesis Procedure
There is no special preparation for thoracentesis. You will have a chest X-ray before and after the procedure.
You will sit on the edge of a bed or chair for the procedure, with your arms and head resting on a table. Our O2 Pulmonary & Sleep Group pulmonary professional will clean the skin around the procedure site. The doctor will inject an anesthetic into the skin before placing a needle through the skin and chest wall into the pleural space. Our lung doctor will draw fluid out through the needle and send some fluid to the laboratory for testing.
You may feel a stinging sensation with injection of the local anesthesia. You may experience pressure or pain when the doctor inserts the needle into the pleural space.
The procedure typically takes only 10 to 15 minutes but may take longer if you have a lot of fluid in the pleural space. Our highly trained health care professionals will monitor your condition during the procedure and for a few hours afterwards. Our pulmonary specialist will let you know when you can resume driving, working and engaging in your regular physical activities.
This lung procedure does not usually cause serious problems, although bleeding, pain, bruising or infection at the insertion site is possible, as is collapsed lung. Liver or spleen injury is very rare.