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Pleural Effusion

A little bit of fluid in the pleural space, the space between the lungs and the inside of your chest, is normal. Too much fluid in the chest cavity can cause difficulty breathing and if not treated, can scar the lung tissue and severely limit lung function. It is caused by a variety of diseases and conditions: most commonly it occurs due to cancer, heart failure, kidney problems or pneumonia.  Our thoracic surgeons frequently deal with pleural effusions and offer a variety of treatment options to help manage the effusion and any of the longer term problems that they can cause.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Pleural Effusion

Signs of pleural effusion may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • painful breathing
  • persistent coughing

Your physician may recommend a variety of diagnostics tests, such as:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT Scan
  • Chest Ultrasound
  • Thoracentesis (a needle biopsy of the chest cavity to collect a fluid sample) 

Surgical Treatment Options for Pleural Effusion

Reducing excess fluid buildup in the pleura generally relieves symptoms.At NorthShore, our highly skilled thoracic specialists routinely perform pleurodesis, a procedure that involves creating inflammation in the chest in order to allow the lungs to adhere to the chest wall, preventing the further build up of fluid in the pleural space. In cases of scarred lung tissue due to pleural effusion and other conditions, our specially trained surgeons perform a procedure called decortication to remove the fibrous tissue that has enveloped the lungs. This surgical treatment works to free the lungs so that they can fully expand and contract to improve breathing.

We employ minimally invasive video assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) for both pleurodesis and decortication. VATS involves the insertion of pencil-thin surgical instruments and a miniaturized camera through tiny incisions in the chest area.

For More Information

To schedule an appointment with one of our thoracic surgeons, please call 847.570.2868.