Pleural Effusion: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Complications



Pleural Effusion is a condition related to the excessive accumulation of fluid in the pleural space or pleural cavity. The condition is also known as water on the lungs.


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Pleural space is the thin membrane filled with fluid between the lungs and chest act to lubricate and facilitate breathing. It prevents friction as lungs expand contract while breathing.


What are the symptoms of pleural effusion?


A person suffering from the condition can have the following symptoms:


  • Chest pain: A person will experience a sharp pain that is worse when coughing or taking deep breaths.


  • Cough: You will have dry and non-productive coughing.


  • Fever and chills: You will experience cold, which not necessarily in a cold environment. 



  • Fast breathing


  • breathlessness

What are the causes of pleural effusion?


The causes can be determined in two ways; Transudative pleural effusion or Exudative effusion. Let’s learn about both the condition.


 Transudative pleural effusion: The condition is caused by leakage of fluid in the pleural space, which is mainly due to increased pressure in the blood vessels or low protein in the blood. 


The most common condition associated with the Transudative effusion involves:



  • Pulmonary embolism: The blockage of one or more arteries in the lungs by the blood clot.


  • Cirrhosis; The late-stage scarring of the liver caused by some conditions and diseases like hepatitis and chronic alcoholism.


  • Post open heart surgery


The most common condition associated with the exudative effusion:



  • Cancer


  • Pulmonary embolism



  • Inflammatory disease


Besides, certain risk factors of pleural effusion may include:


  • Excessive smoking and drinking alcohol


  • Previously had high blood pressure


  • Any history of contact with asbestos


  • History of exposure to asbestos



  • Autoimmune disease


  • Bleeding (due to chest trauma)


  • Rare chest and abdominal infections


  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome


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Treatment of pleural effusion


The treatment plan follows easing the symptoms:


  • Eliminating fluid


  • Avoiding re-buildup of fluid


  • Noting out the cause of fluid build-up


  • The removal procedure of fluid is followed when the fluid is causing pressure in the chest or breathlessness. This procedure will allow the lungs to make breathing easier. 


Whereas, the cause of fluid build also require treatment:


  • If the reason for fluid buildup is heart failure, then you will receive the treatment required for the same.


  • If the cause of fluid buildup is an infection, your infection will be treated following antibiotics. 


  • A person with cancer or infection, the effusion is carried out by a chest tube to drain the fluid.


Some cases may involve the below-mentioned treatment procedures: 


  • Chemotherapy


  • Radiation therapy


  • Surgery


  • The medicine placements into the chest which will prevent fluid buildup, after effusion. 


Complications of pleural effusion


The pleural effusion complications may include:


  • Damage to lungs


  • An infection formed into an abscess, aka empyema


  • After drainage of the effusion air in the chest cavity. The condition is known as pneumothorax.


  • Scarring of the lining of the lungs known as pleural thickening.


The blog aims to provide awareness, besides, if you have any symptoms of the condition such as shortness of breath or trouble breathing consult your health provider immediately.


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