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What is a Pleural Effusion?

A pleural effusion commonly occurs when one has mesothelioma. A pleural effusion is the buildup of fluid between the lungs and the chest wall that causes extreme shortness of breath. Pleural effusions are commonly referred to as “water on the lungs” and they can be malignant or benign.

It is normal for the pleural cavity to have some amounts of water in it for the pleura to easily slide past each other, but a buildup of fluid becomes problematic. When there is too much fluid, the lungs are not able to expand as much as they should and the lungs are compressed, causing breathing problems.

Types of Pleural Effusion

There are different types of pleural effusion, and each type can be classified based on a fluid sample taken from the lungs. The pleural effusion that is related to mesothelioma is an exudative pleural effusion, while the other type is a transudative effusion. An exudative pleural effusion happens when a disease, such as mesothelioma, affects the pleura in a direct way and causes fluid to leak out of blood vessels. The fluid that is the result of an exudative pleural effusion contains protein and is cloudy in color.


What Causes Pleural Effusions?

Pleural effusions can be caused through a variety of reasons, including infections, inflammation, and cancer. When it is caused by cancer it is classified as malignant. Mesothelioma and lung cancer tend to cause malignant effusions. Those who have not been diagnosed with mesothelioma, but were exposed to asbestos, may still develop a pleural effusion. This may be a sign of another asbestos-related disease. One of the main causes of a pleural effusion is asbestos exposure.


What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring silicate materials. It was widely used in the US before 1980 due to its fire resistance. Industries that commonly used asbestos in their products include construction, shipyards, power plants, and more. Occupations commonly associated with asbestos exposure include construction workers, insulators, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and auto mechanics, just to name a few. If you have worked in any of these occupations or industries, you may have been exposed to asbestos, which is a carcinogen.



If you have been exposed to asbestos throughout your life, you may want to look out for the following symptoms that could be related to a pleural effusion:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Feeling of discomfort
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dry cough
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down

There are different ways in which a pleural effusion can be diagnosed, including a CT scan, an ultrasound, and an x-ray of the chest.


Treating Pleural Effusions

When it comes to treating pleural effusions, there are a few different treatment options to consider. Most treatment options place an emphasis on palliation and removing the fluid. Treatment options include pleurodesis, thoracentesis, and the use of a catheter.

Pleurodesis and thoracentesis involve the removal of fluid from the pleural cavity with the aim of improving breathing and causing less pressure on the lungs. When pleurodesis is performed, the doctor tries to close the pleural cavity for good, so no more fluid buildup can occur, however this can be accompanied by many side effects.

When a catheter is inserted into the chest cavity it drains the excess fluid from the area which flows into a bag.

A pleurectomy/decortication is when the chest cavity is opened, and the pleural lining is removed.

It is important that research continues to be done to determine the best treatment options for pleural effusions for patients to have the best possible prognosis.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a pleural effusion, mesothelioma, or another asbestos-related disease, please call The Halpern Law Firm at 1 (800) 505-6000 for legal help. We have over 30 years of experience helping mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania.



By Sadie Gold

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David brenton


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