About Your Thoracentesis

This information describes your thoracentesis (THOR-ah-sen-TE-sis) procedure and what to do after your procedure.

Thoracentesis is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between your chest wall and lung. This space is called the pleural cavity. The procedure is done to relieve shortness of breath caused by the fluid and can help diagnose illnesses, such as:

  • Congestive heart failure.
  • Viral or bacterial infections.
  • Cancer.
  • Pneumonia.

Before Your Procedure

Your doctor or nurse will tell you if you can eat food, drink liquids, and take your medication as usual.

You will have a chest x-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan of your chest to find the exact location of the fluid around your lung. You may also need an ultrasound to help get a better picture of the fluid’s location.

You will receive a phone call the day before your procedure to confirm your appointment time. If you do not receive a call by noon, please call the location where you are scheduled to have your procedure.

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During Your Procedure

You will be seated or lying on your side during the procedure. Your nurse will monitor your oxygen level and heart rate. You will have an antiseptic solution applied to an area of your back to prevent infection. It will feel cool. Your doctor will then inject a small part of this area with a local anesthetic (numbing medication).

When the area is numb, your doctor will insert a needle into your pleural cavity. You may be asked to breathe out or hold your breath at different times during the procedure. You may feel an urge to cough. It’s important that you try not to move while the needle is in place.

Once the fluid is found, the needle will be taken out, and your doctor will leave a catheter in its place to drain the fluid. The catheter will be left in place for a few hours after the procedure to allow more fluid to drain.

You may feel discomfort or pain in your shoulder. This is more likely towards the end of your procedure. If you feel pain, tell your doctor. They may give you pain medication to help you feel more comfortable.

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After Your Procedure

You will most likely stay in the procedure room until you feel ready to get up and move around. During this time, you may still have the catheter in place to allow more fluid to drain. Your doctor will remove the catheter when this is done.

When your catheter is removed, a bandage (Band-Aid®) will be placed over the area. You may have a small amount of fluid leaking from the site. Your nurse will give you extra gauze to protect your clothing in case this happens.

After your catheter is removed, you will have a chest x-ray done. This is to make sure that all the fluid was taken out and that your lungs are working the way they should be. You will be able to go home after your x-ray is done.

Caring for yourself at home

You may feel some discomfort in your shoulder following your procedure. If this pain gets worse, call your doctor or nurse.

You may still have leakage for up to 72 hours after your procedure.

If you don’t have leakage, you can take the bandage off in 24 hours. If you do experience leakage, apply the extra gauze with a bandage over it. If leakage continues for more than 72 hours, call your doctor or nurse.

You may resume your normal activities.

The fluid removed from your pleural cavity may be sent to the lab for analysis. Your doctor will have most of the final results in about 2 business days. Call your doctor to find out your results.

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Call Your Doctor or Nurse if You Have:

  • Severe or worsening shortness of breath
  • Increased pain or redness at the injection site
  • Leakage for more than 72 hours
  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
  • Shaking or shivering
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