Skip to Content
Home > Health Information > Health Library > Pleural effusion
Pleural effusion is the buildup of fluid between the outer lining of the lungs (visceral pleura) and the inner lining (parietal pleura) of the chest cavity. This fluid buildup has many causes, including infection, inflammation, heart failure, pancreatitis, or cancer.
Minor pleural effusion may not cause any symptoms. A large amount of fluid may prevent the complete expansion of a lung, making it hard for the person to breathe. Possible symptoms of pleural effusion may include:
A doctor may diagnose pleural effusion during a physical exam and then confirm the diagnosis with a chest X-ray.
Minor pleural effusion often heals on its own. If treatment is needed, it may involve removal of the fluid using a needle inserted through the chest wall (thoracentesis). The fluid may be sent to a lab to find out what is causing the fluid to build up.
Current as of: February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
See important information from Billings Clinic on Non-discrimination and Interpreter Services.
Billings Clinic is proud to be an equal opportunity/affirmative action (EOE/AA) e-verify employer.