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Thoracentesis: Uses, procedure, and recovery

A thoracentesis, commonly known as a pleural tap is a procedure used to drain extra fluid or air from your pleural area. The little gap between your lungs and chest wall is known as the pleural space. Pleural effusion refers to an accumulation of fluid in your pleural space. Your lungs may get compressed by pleural effusion, making breathing difficult. A needle is inserted into the pleural space around your lungs during this minimally invasive treatment to release the accumulated fluid or air.

Thoracentesis is intended to remove fluid or air to make breathing easier for you. Read on to find out about thoracentesis meaning, how a thoracentesis procedure works, how to prepare for a thoracentesis for pleural effusion, and the potential thoracentesis complications.

Thoracentesis – What is it?

A treatment called thoracentesis removes fluid from the area around your lungs (pleural space). The region outside your lungs but inside your chest wall is known as the pleural space.

A thin layer of tissue called the pleura lines the chest wall and your lungs. These two layers are able to pass over each other without friction as your lungs expand and contract during breathing thanks to a small quantity of fluid between them. Your lungs need pleural fluid to help you breathe, just like a hinge needs oil to make a door move smoothly.

Thoracentesis for pleural effusion is typically carried out to help alleviate the symptoms due to fluid buildup. Pleural effusion, which makes it difficult to breathe, is brought on by certain medical disorders and diseases. Pneumothorax Treatment Options

The following are a few ailments that might result in pleural effusion:

  • Malignant growths
  • Other lung infections, including pneumonia & tuberculosis.
  • Heart failure – congestive
  • Cirrhosis, a form of liver disease

In some circumstances, a diagnostic thoracentesis procedure can also assist your doctor in identifying the origin of your fluid accumulation.

Depending on the underlying disease you have, your doctor may drain more or less fluid. The procedure of Thoracentesis usually takes 10 to 15 minutes, but it can take longer if your pleural area is filled with a lot of fluid. To determine the reason for fluid buildup around one or both of your lungs, a pleural fluid analysis, and a lab test, may be carried out after thoracentesis.

A pleural biopsy may also be carried out by your doctor. It can aid in determining the underlying cause of pleural effusion despite not being routinely done.

Possible reasons include:

  • Lung cancer or Malignant Pleural Effusion
  • Mesothelioma, a lung tissue-covering cancer associated with asbestos,
  • Tuberculosis in the pleura

Why is thoracentesis done?

Thoracentesis is done for two purposes:

Diagnostic: Your doctor will drain some fluid to find out the cause of excess fluid accumulation which could be due to infection or malignancy amongst other causes.

The second reason for thoracentesis is to relieve the patients off breathing difficulty due to excess pleural fluid that is compressing the lungs. Removal of fluid allows the lung to expand and makes breathing easier.

Thoracentesis – Who is it needed for?

Patients with pleural effusion undergo a thoracentesis to either assist them to breathe easily or to help with a diagnosis of the cause of effusion. According to the American Thoracic Society, the following are the most frequent justifications for a diagnostic thoracentesis:

  • To determine what is causing a fresh pleural effusion
  • For increased comfort
  • To detect cancer or treat its symptoms
  • To determine the presence of an infection

Whether or not you a good candidate for thoracentesis your doctor can help you decide. Thoracentesis may not be possible for some individuals.

Additionally, doctors are hesitant to perform thoracentesis on patients who:

  • Cannot be repositioned in a secure manner
  • Have blood clotting issues,
  • Use blood thinners
  • Have had recent lung surgery
  • Have other circumstances where the risks outweigh the advantages

Thoracentesis: Uses, procedure, and recovery

What can thoracentesis be a treatment for?

Pleural effusion, or extra fluid in the space between your lungs and your chest wall, is treated with thoracentesis. It aids in symptom relief and helps identify potential causes of the fluid so that your healthcare professional can administer the proper treatment.

Pleural effusion is brought on by a variety of underlying diseases, such as:

  • Enlarged heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Lung infections or pneumonia (viral, bacterial, or fungal)
  • SLE, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, and other autoimmune conditions
  • Lungs having blood clots (pulmonary embolism)
  • Certain forms of hypertension (pulmonary hypertension)
  • Pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis)
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Tuberculosis (TB)

Pleural effusion is most frequently caused by heart failure.

How to Prepare for Thoracentesis?

A thoracentesis requires no particular preparation. However, if you have any queries or worries regarding the operation, talk to your doctor. You will receive detailed instructions from your doctor on how to get ready for a thoracentesis. You might be asked to:

  1. Stop taking some of your drugs for a specific period before and after the procedure.
  2. You should make arrangements for someone to drive you home after the procedure.

You will need to inform your doctor if you:

  • Have a bleeding (blood clotting) disorder.
  • Take aspirin or blood thinners.
  • Take any additional prescription or OTC medications, vitamins, or dietary supplements.
  • Either are or are planning to get pregnant.
  • Have an allergy to latex, tape (adhesives), or any drugs (including anesthetics).

What happens during Thoracentesis Procedure?

Either a hospital or a doctors office can do a thoracentesis. Although its usually done with you awake, you might be given a sedative. If youve been given sedation, youll require assistance getting home after the treatment. Depending on how much fluid is present in the pleural space, a thoracentesis typically lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. The treatment will take longer the more fluid there is to drain out.

Before thoracentesis

A thoracentesis typically takes 15 minutes and is performed in a hospital. Your doctor will take your blood pressure before a thoracentesis and measure your blood oxygen level using a little device on your finger. Prior to the procedure, they will employ imaging (X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan) to determine the location and volume of the fluid so that the doctor can subsequently place the needle into this area.

Youll take off any jewelry and change into an open-back gown. Your healthcare practitioner will ask you to take a seat with your arms on a table. You can lie on your side if you are unable to sit. The doctor will apply a local anesthetic and sanitize the injection site prior to performing the procedure.

During Thoracentesis

A thoracentesis normally requires the patient to stay awake. Throughout the procedure, your doctor could advise you to hold your breath or refrain from moving. While doctors remove fluid, you could feel pressure or discomfort, but it shouldn hurt. If you experience chest pain, feel out of breath, or feel faint, let your doctor know. During the Thoracentesis procedure:

  1. Youll be placed in a position that enables your doctor to reach your pleural area after sitting in a chair or reclining on a table. It is simpler for the doctor to place the needle into the pleural space in this position because it helps spread out the crevices between the ribs.
  2. Your heartbeat and other vital signs will be monitored by devices that are connected to you.
  3. Receive oxygen via a mask or a tube (cannula) in your nose.
  4. Your back will be wrapped while a portion of it is cleaned with antiseptic.
  5. Using local anesthetic and a needle, the region is numbed. When they insert the needle, you might feel a pinch. After this procedure, they could wait a while to make sure the area is completely numb.
  6. During the process, the doctor can instruct you to hold your breath. To remove fluid, a second needle is inserted in the space between your ribs. To guide the needle, they could use a portable ultrasound instrument. The fluid is drained from the needle using a tube. During this process, you could feel uncomfortable pressure. Some people say they have the urge to cough as the fluid drains out and their lungs re-expand.
  7. The needle is removed and the site is bandaged after the entire fluid has been emptied. This should recover on its own.
  8. Right after the thoracentesis, your doctor might take a follow-up X-ray.
  9. They could ask you to spend the night in the hospital or clinic so you can be observed, depending on the severity of your symptoms, and to make sure there are no problems.

After Thoracentesis

Following the Procedure, your doctor will check your vital signs and perhaps request an X-ray of your lungs. If your breathing rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and pulse are all normal, they will let you return home. After thoracentesis, you can cough for up to an hour. This is typical and aids in the recovery of your lungs. The majority of thoracentesis patients can return home the same day.

After the procedure, youll be able to quickly resume most of your regular activities. However, your physician might advise that you refrain from exercising for a few days.

How to care for the puncture site will be explained to you by your doctor. If you start to exhibit any infection-related symptoms, make sure to call your doctor.

Infection symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood in the sputum
  • Chills or fever
  • Discomfort when taking big breaths
  • Redness, discomfort, or bleeding near the injection site

The drained fluid is typically sent to a lab by your provider. The laboratory will search for indicators of infectious infections or other pleural effusion causes. Your healthcare professional will inform you of their findings and what they indicate for your health.

Recovery After Thoracentesis

The thoracentesis recovery period is brief. The majority of patients who have a thoracentesis leave the hospital the same day. How to care for the injection site at home will be explained by their doctor. If required, a person can take acetaminophen to get any discomfort under control. Your doctor could advise against engaging in intense activity for 48 hours. After 24 hours, you can normally remove the bandage.

Sedation is typically not necessary for a thoracentesis. However, if sedation is used, the patient must make arrangements for a ride home after the treatment.

Each person recovers at a different pace. People who have problems will take longer to heal.

Thoracentesis Complications

The risk of complications is low with thoracentesis. Thoracentesis complications are typically not significant. By finding the fluid with imaging prior to the treatment, they are reduced. Ask your doctor to describe the hazards that apply to your particular situation. There are dangers associated with every invasive procedure, but thoracentesis rarely causes side effects. Thoracentesis complications include

Bleeding. If the needle pierces a blood vessel, a hemorrhage may result. Usually, this is unimportant and ends spontaneously. Very rarely, a surgical procedure may be needed to control the bleeding.

Infection. There is a chance that bacteria will enter your body through any skin breach and result in an infection.

Lung collapse (pneumothorax). Your lung could be punctured by the needle, allowing air to escape. Your lung may partially or completely collapse as a result.

Pulmonary edema. Thoracentesis can result in pulmonary edema if it drains the fluid from the area surrounding your lungs too quickly.

According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, liver or spleen damage are additional potential consequences, but they are now uncommon due to the widespread use of ultrasonography and CT imaging.

According to research, ultrasonography guiding reduces the likelihood of problems. A 2020 study indicated that problems from technical failure during ultrasound-guided thoracentesis were over 1.2% . Comparatively, while having a thoracentesis without imaging, there is a 10 to 18 percent risk of a collapsed lung.


A thoracentesis is a typical, minimally invasive technique in which a doctor uses a needle to extract fluid or air from the pleural area surrounding your lungs. It can reduce the pressure that makes it difficult to breathe and provide answers about whats generating the fluid around your lungs. It is frequently carried out to aid in the diagnosis or to enhance breathing. After that, breathing will be easier.

Slight issues like bleeding at the injection site or minor bruises are the most frequent thoracentesis consequences. Do not be afraid to discuss any worries you may have with your healthcare professional. Your doctor can explain the potential dangers and benefits of thoracentesis to you and help you decide if you
e a good candidate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many patients get recurring lung fluid because of an underlying medical issue. You might need several thoracentesis procedures if you have a medical condition that causes pleural effusion.


For some circumstances, thoracentesis can be performed as frequently as every few days. By ensuring that the treatment is only performed when essential for symptom relief or to identify the reason for pleural effusion, the risk of complications is reduced.

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