Pleural Effusion: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 12/16/2020

A pleural effusion is a collection of fluid in the spaces surrounding the lungs.

Signs and symptoms of a pleural effusion include

Another associated symptom is difficulty breathing when lying down (known as orthopnea).

Causes of a pleural effusion

Pleural effusion has many potential causes. Congestive heart failure, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis, cancer, or lung infection such as pneumonia can cause a pleural effusion. Other possible causes can include pulmonary embolism, trauma, bleeding, or autoimmune diseases. Cancers that most commonly cause pleural effusions include lung cancer, lymphoma, and breast cancer. Chemotherapy and certain other medications also cause pleural effusion.

Other pleural effusion symptoms and signs

  • Chest Pain When Breathing
  • Cough
  • Fast Breathing
  • Sharp Chest Pain
  • Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)


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Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.