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This information was reviewed and approved by Ellen Volker, MD, MSPH (5/1/2019).

Accurate diagnosis is important. Treatment for pleural effusion is based on what caused the pleural effusion.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, listen to your chest and discuss your symptoms. You may also need to undergo tests or procedures, such as the following:

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays provide an image of the inside of your lungs and allow your doctor to see whether fluid is present and how the lungs are functioning.


Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan of the Chest

Like a chest X-ray, a CT scan allows your doctor to look at images of your lungs, but in greater detail, using computer-generated images.


Chest Ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of your lungs. This is another method that allows your doctor to examine the structures in and around the lungs.


Blood Tests

Blood tests help determine if you have an infection. They also assist in diagnosing underlying conditions, such as pulmonary embolism or lupus.



Your doctor may want to analyze your pleural fluid or tissue by taking a fluid sample or biopsy. This procedure, called thoracentesis, inserts a thin needle into the chest cavity, and removes a small amount of fluid. The fluid sample is analyzed for types of cells, chemical makeup, cultures and abnormal cells. If the fluid is infected, your doctor will want to address it quickly to prevent long-term damage. Thoracentesis can also be used to remove excess fluid from around the lungs.


Bronchoscopy or Thoracoscopy

Your doctor may want to get a closer look at the inside of your chest cavity. This can be done by inserting a small camera through your nose or mouth during a procedure called a bronchoscopy. A camera can be inserted through a small incision in your chest during a procedure called a thoracoscopy.


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