A procedure called thoracentesis is used to get a sample of pleural fluid. The health care provider examines the sample to look for:
Cancerous (malignant) cells
Tiny organisms that can cause disease (microorganisms)
How to prepare for the test
The test is no more invasive than having blood drawn. There is no special preparation. Do not cough, breathe deeply, or move during the test to avoid injury to the lung.
You may have a chest x-ray before or after the test. Tell your doctor if you take medicines to thin the blood.
How the test will feel
You will sit on the edge of a chair or bed with your head and arms resting on a table. The health care provider will clean the skin around the insertion site and drape the area. A local pain-killing medicine (anesthetic) is injected into the skin, which stings a bit, but only for a few seconds.
The thoracentesis needle is inserted above the rib into the pocket of fluid. As fluid drains into a collection bottle, many people cough a bit as the lung reexpands to fill the space where fluid had been. This sensation normally lasts for a few hours after the test is completed. Tell your health care provider if you have sharp chest pain or shortness of breath.
Why the test is performed
The test is performed to determine the cause of a pleural effusion, and to relieve the shortness of breath that a large pleural effusion can cause.
Normally the pleural cavity contains less than 20 milliliters (4 teaspoons) of clear, yellowish (serous) fluid.
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results may indicate possible causes of pleural effusion, such as:
Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine UMDNJ-NJMS, Attending Physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.