Under normal conditions, the lungs move freely because a small amount of fluid lubricates the space between the chest wall and lungs, called the pleural space. When too much fluid accumulates, a condition known as pleural effusion develops. Some causes of pleural effusion include lung cancer, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. The build-up of fluid prevents one or both lungs from fully expanding while you breathe. Symptoms of pleural effusion include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- A cough
A pleural effusion is first treated by using a catheter, a tube that drains the excess fluid from the body. Recurrence is common, though, and may require other treatment techniques. Pleurodesis is typically performed on patients with symptomatic, rapidly recurring pleural effusions. The pleural space is sealed during pleurodesis to eliminate fluid buildup. Your doctor injects a chemical agent into the chest to inflame the membranes around the lung, which causes them to join together. Three chemical agents are commonly used: doxycycline, bleomycin and talc.
The fluid drains on its own if the bottle or bag collecting the fluid is kept lower than your chest. The procedure may take several hours, particularly when there is a significant amount of fluid. The goal of treatment is to make it easier for you to breathe.