Ultrasound Guided Pleural Aspiration (also known as Thoracentesis)

What is it?

This procedure is done by inserting a small needle or tube in the space between the lung and chest wall, known as the pleural space, to remove fluid that has accumulated there.   

Why Is It Done?  

This procedure is generally performed as a diagnostic procedure to determine why fluid is building in the pleural space.  This also may be done for therapeutic reasons to relieve symptoms associated with fluid buildup.

What to Expect

  • You may need to take certain steps to prepare for this procedure, such as limiting food and liquid intake 4 hours prior to the procedure, so be sure to consult your healthcare provider for appropriate directions.
  • If you are taking any blood thinners, let your healthcare provider know at least 5 days before the procedure.
  • Bring a list of your medications with you and any relevant scans, such as X-Rays or CT scans.
  • The procedure is performed while you are sitting upright at the edge of a bed leaning forward, generally with something to rest on.
  • The skin is disinfected with an antiseptic and a very fine needle is used to provide a local anesthetic which may sting briefly prior to numbing the area.
  • A small cut is made in the skin and a needle or thin plastic tube is inserted into the space between your lung and chest wall guided by the use of an ultrasound to mark the area of intervention and remove some of the fluid.
  • When the procedure is complete, a dressing will be applied to cover the opening in the skin.
  • A chest X-Ray may be performed 2-4 hours after the procedure to assess for any possible complications.

What are the risks?

There are some risks that can occur with this procedure.

Immediate risks which would happen at the time of or very soon after the procedure while still at the medical office include:

  • Air around the lung (pneumothorax) and collapse of the lung.
  • Fluid buildup in the lung
  • Injury to the liver, spleen, or heart

Complications you may experience after leaving from the procedure requiring you to seek immediate medical assistance:

  • Excess bleeding from the cut in your skin
  • Increasing shortness of breath
  • New or worsening pain when taking a deep breath
  • A cough that produces blood
  • Infection

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel

Page last updated: July 13, 2023

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