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Definition:

Thoracentesis is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the outside of the lungs (pleura) and the wall of the chest.



Alternative Names:

Pleural fluid aspiration; Pleural tap



How the test is performed:

A small area of skin on your chest or back is washed with a sterilizing liquid. Some numbing medicine (local anesthetic) is injected in this area.

A needle is placed through the skin of the chest wall into the space around the lungs, called the pleural space. Fluid is collected and may be sent to a laboratory for testing (pleural fluid analysis ).



How to prepare for the test:

No special preparation is needed before the test. A chest x-ray may be performed before and after the test.

Do not cough, breathe deeply, or move during the test to avoid injury to the lung.



How the test will feel:

You will sit on a bed or on the edge of a chair or bed. Your head and arms will rest on a table.

The skin around the procedure site is cleaned and the area is draped. A local numbing medicine (anesthetic) is injected into the skin. The thoracentesis needle is inserted above the rib into the pleural space.

You will feel a stinging sensation when the local anesthetic is injected. You may feel pressure when the needle is inserted into the pleural space.

Tell your health care provider if you feel shortness of breath or chest pain .



Why the test is performed:

Normally, very little fluid is in the pleural space. A build-up of too much fluid between the layers of the pleura is called a pleural effusion .

The test is performed to determine the cause of the extra fluid, or to relieve symptoms from the fluid build-up.



Normal Values:

Normally the pleural cavity contains only a very small amount of fluid.



What abnormal results mean:

Testing the fluid will help your health care provider determine the cause of pleural effusion. Possible causes include:

If your health care provider suspects that you have an infection, a culture of the fluid may be done to test for bacteria.

The test may be also performed for the following conditions:



What the risks are:

Special considerations:

A chest x-ray is often done after the procedure to detect possible complications.



References:

Blok B, Ibrado A. Thoracentesis. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2004: chap 9.




Review Date: 9/13/2008
Reviewed By: Benjamin Medoff, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Pulmonary and Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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