Dayton Respiratory Center
Our lungs are responsible for vital functions — like oxygenating our blood.
But the organs are delicate. Some medical conditions cause fluid to accumulate around the lungs, hindering normal breathing. Eliminating this fluid is necessary for survival.
Doctors can remove excess fluid through thoracentesis.
Let's dive deeper into thoracentesis. We'll discuss the benefits, risks and how to prepare for the procedure.
Thoracentesis is a medical procedure to remove excess fluid from the pleural space.
The pleura is a thin layer of tissue that lines your lungs and walls of your inner chest. A small amount of fluid between these two layers (pleural space) helps them move smoothly past each other as your lungs expand and contract during breathing.
Pleural effusion is usually detected using imaging tests — such as X-rays or CT scans. To officially diagnose the condition, a doctor may need to remove a fluid sample for laboratory testing by performing a thoracentesis (i.e., a pleural puncture).
Thoracentesis can benefit the patient in the following ways:
Thoracentesis is a relatively safe and commonly performed medical procedure. But, like any procedure, it carries some risks and potential complications, such as:
Overall, the risks and complications of thoracentesis are generally low, but it is important to discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider before the procedure.
If you are scheduled to undergo a thoracentesis, follow these steps to prepare for the procedure:
By following these steps, you can help ensure that your thoracentesis goes smoothly and that you are prepared for the procedure.
Thoracentesis is typically performed in a hospital or clinical setting by a healthcare provider with specialized training — such as a radiologist or a pulmonologist.
Before the procedure, you’ll need to remove any metal objects — such as eyeglasses and jewelry — and change into a hospital gown.
Your healthcare provider might ask you to sit with your arms on the table or lie on your side. This position allows them to access the pleural fluid easily.
Your physician will disinfect the insertion site with an antiseptic solution and administer local anesthesia.
The physician will insert a needle through the insertion site that reaches the pleural space and drain any excess fluid into a bag.
During this part of the procedure, you’ll need to stay still and exhale deeply or hold your breath when instructed by your physician.
Once the procedure is complete, your physician will remove the needle, bandage the insertion site, and send the fluid to a lab for testing.
Thoracentesis is a short procedure that typically takes 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes, a follow-up chest X-ray may be taken to ensure no complications.
After the thoracentesis procedure, your doctor will closely monitor your vital signs, including your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing. They'll also check the insertion site to ensure no bleeding or fluid discharge.
Thoracentesis is generally an outpatient procedure, so you can go home if everything goes well. You can resume your regular diet and activities, but you may be advised to avoid strenuous exercise.
Watch for any symptoms after the procedure — such as a high fever (above 100.4°F), pain, swelling or redness at the insertion site, shortness of breath, and bleeding or fluid discharge at the insertion site.
Inform your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
The results of a thoracentesis procedure depend on the type of laboratory tests performed on the fluid collected during the procedure. Some tests, such as cell count or chemical analysis, provide results within a few hours. Others, such as bacterial cultures, may take several days.
Your healthcare provider will discuss the timing of the test results with you and explain when you can expect to receive them. Make sure you follow up with your healthcare provider to discuss the results and any recommended treatment plan.
Thoracentesis is a minimally invasive procedure that helps relieve the pressure on your lungs due to excess fluid in the pleural space. The process is relatively quick and has a low risk of complications when performed by a trained healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns regarding the procedure.
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