Thoracentesis

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The illustration shows a person having thoracentesis. The person sits upright and leans on a table. Excess fluid from the pleural space is drained into a bag.

Thoracentesis is a procedure in which a needle is inserted into the pleural space between the lungs and the chest wall to remove excess fluid from the pleural space to help you breathe easier.

Overview

Thoracentesis is a procedure in which a needle is inserted into the pleural space between the lungs and the chest wall. This procedure is done to remove excess fluid, known as a pleural effusion, from the pleural space to help you breathe easier. It may be done to determine the cause of your pleural effusion. Some conditions such as heart failure, lung infections, and tumors can cause pleural effusions.

Thoracentesis is performed in a doctor’s office or hospital. The procedure usually takes 10 to 15 minutes, unless you have a lot of fluid in your pleural space. For the procedure, most patients sit quietly on the edge of a chair or bed with their head and arms resting on a table. Your doctor may use ultrasound to determine the best location to insert the needle. After cleaning the skin around the area where the needle will be inserted, your doctor will inject numbing medicine. A needle is inserted between your ribs into the pleural space. You may feel some discomfort or pressure when the needle is inserted. As your doctor draws out excess fluid from around your lungs, you may feel like coughing or have chest pain. The needle will be removed, and a small bandage will be applied to the site.

After the procedure, your blood pressure and breathing will be monitored to make sure you do not have complications. The fluid that was removed from your chest will be sent for laboratory testing to determine the cause of your pleural effusion and to help plan your treatment. Your doctor may order a chest x ray to check for lung problems.

The risks of thoracentesis include a pneumothorax or collapsed lung, pain, bleeding, bruising, or infection. Liver or spleen injuries are rare complications.

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