What is it?

A thoracentesis takes out fluid buildup in the area between the chest wall and the lining of the outside of the lungs. This area is called the pleura. A needle is inserted through the skin and muscles of the chest wall into the pleural space. Fluid is taken out by the needle.

What is it for?

This procedure is done to diagnose the cause of the extra fluid buildup or alleviate symptoms from the buildup. It can confirm or rule out infections, cancer, congestive heart failure or high pressure in the lung blood vessels. It can also be done to alleviate shortness of breath.

What happens during?

  • Your blood pressure, breathing rate, heart rate and oxygen level will be monitored
  • You may receive additional oxygen through a mask or tube
  • You will be placed in a position that spreads out the spaces between your ribs. This is done to make it easier to insert the needle.
  • You might be asked not breathe deeply, cough or move
  • The incision site will be cleaned with an antiseptic
  • While the area is numb, a needle is placed between the ribs in your back
  • Once inside the pleural space, fluid is taken out. Several tubes may be filled or a tube might be attached to the needle to accommodate a large amount of fluid to be removed.
  • The needle is removed and the incision site is bandaged

What happens after?

  • Your blood pressure, breathing and pulse will be checked during a recovery period
  • The bandage over the incision site will be checked

Upon returning home:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about resuming your diet and normal activities
  • You may have some pain. Your doctor will prescribe pain medication if needed.
  • Rest for at least two days and avoid activities
  • Do not attempt any strenuous activities until your doctor advises you that it is OK
  • Remove the bandage over the incision site after 24 hours
  • Continuously check the incision site for infection

Side effects

  • A fever of 100°F
  • Chest pain
  • Cough blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Infection at the incision site
  • Pain that does not subside