Thoracentesis

A thoracentesis is a procedure to remove excess fluid from the space around the lungs (pleural space). Normally, the pleural space has only a small amount of fluid. Excess fluid in the pleural space can be the result of certain conditions, such as infection, inflammation, heart failure, or cancer. The excess fluid is removed using a needle inserted through the skin and tissue into the pleural space.

A thoracentesis may be done to:

  • Determine the cause of the excess fluid by examining the fluid.

  • Relieve symptoms of shortness of breath or pain caused by the excess fluid.

LET YOUR CAREGIVER KNOW ABOUT:

  • Allergies.

  • Medicines taken including herbs, eyedrops, over-the-counter medicines, and creams.

  • Use of steroids (by mouth or creams).

  • Previous problems with anesthetics or numbing medicine.

  • Possibility of pregnancy, if this applies.

  • History of blood clots (thrombophlebitis).

  • History of bleeding or blood problems.

  • Previous surgery.

  • Other health problems.

RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS

  • Injury to the lung.

  • Possible infection.

  • Possible collapse of a lung (pneumothorax).

BEFORE THE PROCEDURE

Ask your caregiver if you need to arrive early before your procedure. Inform your caregiver if you have had a frequent cough. If you have had frequent coughing episodes, your caregiver may want you to take a cough suppressant. You may have a chest X-ray to determine location and amount of fluid in the pleural space.

PROCEDURE

The procedure will take about 30 minutes. This time will vary depending on the amount of fluid that is removed. You may be asked to sit upright and lean slightly forward for the procedure. An area of the back will be cleansed. A numbing medicine (local anesthetic) may then be injected into the skin and tissue. A needle is inserted between your ribs and advanced into the pleural space. You may feel pressure or slight pain as the needle is positioned into the pleural space. Fluid is removed from the pleural space through the needle. You may feel pressure as the fluid is removed. The needle is withdrawn once the excess fluid has been removed. A sample of the fluid may be sent for examination.

AFTER THE PROCEDURE

A chest X-ray may be done. Your recovery will be assessed and monitored. If there are no problems, you should be able to go home shortly after the procedure. Ask when your test results will be ready. Make sure you get your test results.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • You may resume normal diet and activities as allowed.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You develop shortness of breath or chest pain.

  • There is new drainage or pus coming from the site where fluid was removed.

  • You notice swelling or increased redness from the site where fluid was removed.

  • An unexplained temperature of 102° F (38.9° C) or above develops.