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What are the causes of pleural effusion?

There are many causes of pleural effusions. The following is a list of some of the major causes:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Infection
  • Malignancy
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Hypoalbuminemia
  • Cirrhosis
  • Trauma

The development of a pleural effusion occurs from fluid seeping into the pleural space, a thin area between the visceral and pleural membranes in the chest cavity, which normally contains a small amount of fluid to facilitate smooth lung movement. Fluid under pressure, malignant cells, and infectious agents can occasionally enter this space and cause it to expand with abnormal amounts of fluid and other compounds (see diagnosis section).

Picture of pleural effusion
Picture of pleural effusion

X-ray of pulmonary effusion
X-ray of pulmonary effusion courtesy of the CDC

Return to Pleural Effusion

See what others are saying

Comment from: Concerned Mom, (Caregiver) Published: November 25

Six months ago, my 14 year old daughter had a spinal fusion and costoplasty which involved removing three ribs from her right side. She spent 14 days in hospital and was readmitted 4 days later in severe pain. She was diagnosed as having a pleural effusion and pneumonia. A chest drain was inserted and 1.5 liters of fluid removed. She spent 2 weeks in hospital on various antibiotics. Unfortunately, she is still experiencing a high level of pain. Further x-rays have been carried out and we have been told that she is doing well - the titanium rods and bolts are all fine and her lung is doing well. Yesterday, the right hand side of her back was very swollen and sore and again we went back to the hospital - only to be told she is fine. I am frustrated now. We don't know what the swelling is and why she continues to have so much pain. She has been given a prescription for codeine phosphate and no further checkups until her one year post-op review.

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Comment from: Kansas, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: November 22

I suffered plural effusion in 2010. They drained two liters of fluid every 10 days. I have two active granulomas in my right lung, and they found five old ones on my left ribcage. They also found thyroid cancer. However, all the doctors involved said that repeated plural effusions are not caused by either disease. I also have an enlarged spleen and liver.

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Comment from: 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: November 22

Well I just came back from a 5 day stay at the hospital. After being diagnosed with A-Fib in January 2012' now I could not walk more than 100 meters without being out of breath. The emergency department gave me intravenous Novosemide (LASIK) and I expelled by natural means 4.7 liters of water. Dr. Says that was too fast, hospitalized me and started giving me 160mg per day by pill and control my water intake to 1.5 liter max per day. All worked well, I came out yesterday, feeling 99%. Went in weighing 183 pounds and came out at 169 pounds. My chest cavity was full and now nice and normal. I believe this was caused by inadequate a fib drug dosage. One of the pill brought my heart beat down to 45 bpm, which is way too low for me. This drug was readjusted and now have heart beat in the 70's. Important weigh yourself every day and insist with the GP if you don't feel normal. I had to argue quite a bit that my breath was difficult and not normal. Also I could feel inflammation in my chest but not my feet and was told in mid-January that that was ok and normal on a fib. Just your own instincts and read these site. Now I am reading this site and I can't believe the GP did not pick this up 2-3 weeks ago. Anyway now I am home and feeling really good. The liquid is mostly gone and I am on 120mg nonsemide per day.

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