Table of Contents
Definition of Thoracentesis Procedure
Thoracentesis is the removal of fluid from the pleural cavity (the space between the pleural surfaces of the lung and thoracic cavity). The doctor typically uses chest x-ray, ultrasound, or computed tomography (ct) scan to assess the appropriate site for the thoracentesis and may use any of these imaging procedures to guide the process of the thoracentesis.
After anesthetizing (numbing) the skin and tissues at the site, the doctor inserts a large-gauge needle between the ribs and into the pleural cavity to withdraw pleural fluid.
Thoracentesis may be diagnostic, in which case the doctor withdraws a small amount of fluid for laboratory examination of the cells and any pathogens it contains. The doctor may conduct diagnostic thoracentesis to evaluate circumstances such as
- Chest pain and other symptoms that suggest pleurisy or pleural effusion
- Mesothelioma, a cancer related to asbestosis or asbestos exposure
- Identification of infection (bacterial or tuberculosis)
- Staging of lung cancer
Thoracentesis may also be therapeutic, such as to drain a major pleural effusion. Potential complications of thoracentesis include vasovagal nerve stimulation that causes syncope (fainting) bleeding, infection, bleeding, and pneumothorax. Most procedures are uncomplicated and discomfort is usually mild and temporary.
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