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What is thoracentesis?

Thoracentesis is a procedure for removing fluid from the space between your lungs and your ribcage (pleural space). A needle is used to remove the fluid.

When is it used?

Thoracentesis may be done to:

  • Remove fluid from around your lungs that is making it hard for you to breathe.
  • Get a sample of chest fluid to test for
    • Infection
    • The cause of the fluid buildup
    • Cancer cells

How do I prepare for thoracentesis?

You do not need to do anything to prepare for this procedure. Your healthcare provider will talk about your choices for treatment and explain the procedure and any risks. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do and how long it will take you to recover. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

This procedure may be done at your healthcare provider’s office or at a hospital. You will usually sit backward on a chair with your arms resting on the back of the chair. You will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area.

Your provider will put the needle through a space between your ribs into the pleural space. It is important not to cough, breathe deeply, or move suddenly while your provider inserts the needle. Your provider will remove fluid, then remove the needle and put a bandage on the needle site. The test usually takes just a few minutes. It may take longer if a lot of fluid is removed.

What happens after the procedure?

After the procedure you may have a chest X-ray to make sure that the lung was not punctured by the needle. The X-ray will also show how much fluid is left in the chest.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection or bleeding.
  • The needle may go into your lung and cause a small leak.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-31
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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