Large Right Pleural Effusion
History of present illness:
An 83-year-old male with a distant history of tuberculosis status post treatment and resection approximately fifty years prior presented with two days of worsening shortness of breath. He denied any chest pain, and reported his shortness of breath was worse with exertion and lying flat.
Chest x-ray and bedside ultrasound revealed a large right pleural effusion, estimated to be greater than two and a half liters in size.
The incidence of pleural effusion is estimated to be at least 1.5 million cases annually in the United States.1 Erect posteroanterior and lateral chest radiography remains the mainstay for diagnosis of a pleural effusion; on upright chest radiography small effusions (>400cc) will blunt the costophrenic angles, and as the size of an effusion grows it will begin to obscure the hemidiphragm.1 Large effusions will cause mediastinal shift away from the affected side (seen in effusions >1000cc).1 Lateral decubitus chest radiography can detect effusions greater than 50cc.1
Ultrasonography can help differentiate large pulmonary masses from effusions and can be instrumental in guiding thoracentesis.1 The patient above was comfortable at rest and was admitted for a non-emergent thoracentesis. The pulmonology team removed 2500cc of fluid, and unfortunately the patient subsequently developed re-expansion pulmonary edema and pneumothorax ex-vacuo. It is generally recommended that no more than 1500cc be removed to minimize the risk of re-expansion pulmonary edema.2
Ultrasound, POCUS, pleural effusion, chest xray, xray, lung, pulmonary, fluid overload.
- Nicks BA, Manthey DE. Pleural effusion. In: Adams JG, Barton ED, Collings JL, DeBlieux PM, Gisondi MA, Nadel ES, eds. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:431-437.
- Roberts J, Hedges J. Thoracentesis. In: Adams JG, Barton ED, Collings JL, DeBlieux PM, Gisondi MA, Nadel ES, eds. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:173-189.