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Management of pleural effusion and haemothorax 

Management of pleural effusion and haemothorax
Management of pleural effusion and haemothorax

Davide Chiumello

and Silvia Coppola

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date: 20 February 2020

The main goal of management of pleural effusion is to provide symptomatic relief removing fluid from the pleural space. The options depend on type, stage, and underlying disease. The first diagnostic instrument is the chest radiography, while ultrasound can be very useful to guide thoracentesis. Pleural effusion can be a transudate or an exudate. Generally, a transudate is uncomplicated effusion treated by medical therapy, while an exudative effusion is considered complicated effusion and should be managed by drainage. Refractory non-malignant effusions can be transudative (congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, nephrosis) or exudative (pancreatitis, connective tissue disease, endocrine dysfunction), and the management options include repeated therapeutic thoracentesis, in-dwelling pleural catheter for intermittent external drainage, pleuroperitoneal shunts for internal drainage, or surgical pleurectomy. Parapneumonic pleural effusions can be classified as complicated when there is persistent bacterial invasion of the pleural space, uncomplicated and empyema with specific indications for pleural fluid drainage. Malignancy is the most common cause of exudative pleural effusions in patients aged >60 years and the decision to treat depends upon the presence of symptoms and the underlying tumour type. Options include in-dwelling pleural catheter drainage, pleurodesis, pleurectomy, and pleuroperitoneal shunt. Haemothorax needs to be differentiated from a haemorrhagic pleural effusion and, when suspected, the essential management is intercostal drainage. It achieves two objectives to drain the pleural space allowing expansion of the lung and to allow assessment of rates of blood loss to evaluate the need for emergency or urgent thoracotomy.

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