January 01, 2017

Pleural effusion

Water on the lung

Pleural effusion

The nasty cold you developed was miserable, but it became much more alarming when you started having difficulty getting a full breath. The pain in your lower chest made deep breaths — and coughing — hard to tolerate.

At the doctor's office, you received an unsurprising diagnosis of ¬≠pneumonia. But you were also diagnosed with something unexpected — pleural effusion, sometimes called water on the lung.

Pleural effusion is a common problem — particularly in older adults. Pneumonia and heart failure are the two most common causes, followed by cancer. Managing pleural effusion itself is often fairly straight-forward. However, determining the cause can sometimes be a tricky and involved process. Some causes are easy to manage, while others are more complicated.

Liquid lining

The pleura are thin layers of membrane that line the inside of your chest cavity and surround each of your lungs. Between layers of the pleura is the pleural space. Normally, the ­pleural space has a small amount of fluid in it that acts like a lubricant to help the layers move smoothly past each other as you breathe.

The fluid in the pleural space continually cycles through, as new fluid enters the pleural space through blood vessels, and old fluid exits through the lymph system. The rate of entry and exit of fluid remains fairly constant, so that the amount of fluid in the pleural space stays the same.

Pleural effusion occurs when excess fluid accumulates in the pleural space, in one or both sides of...