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How is pleural effusion treated?

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Quick Answer

Pleural effusion can often be treated by addressing the underlying cause or condition, such as with antibiotics or diuretics, according to WebMD. Large, infected or inflamed pleural effusions may require additional drainage to prevent complications, such as with a chest tube or a pleural drain.

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A pleural effusion to be an abnormal buildup of fluid in the pleura, the thin membrane which lines the lungs, says WebMD. Medical conditions that may cause pleural effusion include congestive heart failure, pneumonia and liver disease. Pleural effusion often causes no symptoms, but more serious cases may result in shortness of breath, chest pain, fever and cough.

Treating the condition that has caused pleural effusion is often an effective treatment for the pleural effusion, indicates WebMD. For example, pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, and congestive heart failure can be treated with diuretics.

There are several procedures that can remove the fluid from the body when the other treatment options are insufficient, according to WebMD. These procedures include thoracentesis, when a needle is inserted between the ribs into the pleural space and withdraws the fluid, and tube thoracotomy, when a plastic tube is inserted into the chest, and suction is applied to remove the fluid. If necessary, a long-term catheter can be inserted so that patients can drain fluid themselves.

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