Pleural Effusion

Buildup of Fluid

Image of Woman with Hand on Chest Due to PainPleural effusion is fluid buildup between the layers of tissue that line the outside of the lungs. If too much fluid fills the space, it can make it hard or painful to breathe.

There are 2 types of pleural effusion:

  • Inflammatory – This is caused by a lung disease like pneumonia or lung cancer, both of which irritates the pleura.
  • Noninflammatory – This is caused by abnormal fluid pressures inside the lungs. The pressure can be caused by congestive heart failure (CHF). In CHF, extra fluid collects inside the lung tissues because of a weak heart muscle. This extra fluid then leaks into the pleural space. Other causes of noninflammatory pleural effusions include kidney disease, liver disease, and malnutrition.


The symptoms of pleural effusion include:

  • Sharp pains in the chest, especially when taking a breath, coughing, or sneezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Cough
  • Fever


Common causes include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Pneumonia
  • Viral lung infection
  • Cancer
  • Blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism)
  • Heart surgery

Chest infections like pneumonia and heart disease are the most common causes. Less common causes include lung cancer.


The extra fluid may be drained from the pleural space. This is done with a procedure called thoracentesis. This procedure uses a thin needle to draw out the fluid from the pleural space. In some cases, a tube is placed in the chest to drain the extra fluid. The tube will likely stay in place for several days.

You may have other treatments, depending on the cause of your pleural effusion. If it’s because of a bacterial infection, you will be given antibiotics to fight the infection. If it’s because of a heart condition, you will be given medicines and other treatment for your heart.