Pleural effusion is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in the pleural space, or the space between the inner and outer pleural layers. As the fluid builds up, it creates pressure on the lungs and prevents them from expanding properly. This results in breathing difficulty for the patient.
On its own, pleural effusion is not considered a disease. This condition can, however, be indicative of a number of serious health problems such as the most common form of mesothelioma – pleural mesothelioma.
The Origins of Pleural Effusion
The most common cause of pleural effusion is inflammation, which may result from trauma or the immune system’s reaction to a foreign pathogen. Conditions and diseases that may lead to pleural effusion include:
- Cancers such as mesothelioma , Hodgkin’s disease, or breast cancer
- Congestive heart failure
- Injury to the chest
Symptoms of pleural effusion include shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and fever. Since many respiratory conditions have similar symptoms, intensive testing is often required to confirm a pleural effusion diagnosis. A doctor may use chest X-rays, CAT scans, and ultrasound as diagnostic tools in addition to physical examination. In some cases, a sample of pleural fluidmay be removed and analyzed.
Treatment Methods for Pleural Effusion
No matter the cause of pleural effusion, the objective of treatment is to relieve pressure on the patient’s lungs. This is most often done through a procedure called thoracentesis, which involves the aspiration of fluid from the pleural space through a cannula, or long, hollow needle. The cannula is attached to a drainage bag or bottle into which fluid is collected.
In some patients with recurring pleural effusion (as with malignant mesothelioma), an outpatient procedure called a tube thoracotomy may be used. In this procedure, fluid is removed from the pleural space through a chest tube that is kept in place for several days.
Another pleural effusion procedure that can benefit mesothelioma patients is pleurodesis, which involves injecting a special substance into the pleural cavity. Then, reverse pressure through a catheter or cannula is used to seal the inner and outer pleural layers together to prevent further fluid buildup. With mesothelioma patients, pleurodesis is often done in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or radiation.
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