Catherine Spader, RN

What is aspiration?

Aspiration is the use of suction to remove fluid or other tissues from the body to test them for diseases and disorders. An aspiration can diagnose cancer, cysts, meningitis, abdominal infection, and complications of pregnancy. Your doctor may also use aspiration as a treatment to remove excessive or infected fluid in a joint or body cavity, such as the abdomen. 

Aspiration can be done in almost any body area or organ. It generally involves using a needle and syringe to withdraw the fluid or cells. 

Aspiration is only one method used to diagnose or treat some diseases and conditions. You may have less invasive testing or treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your choices before having an aspiration.

Types of aspiration

Common types of aspiration include:

  • Abdominal tap (abdominal paracentesis) is the removal of fluid from the space around the abdomen. An abdominal tap can find the reason for fluid buildup (ascites) and drain excessive fluid. An abdominal tap can also diagnose infection (peritonitis) and bleeding due to trauma.

  • Amniocentesis is the removal of amniotic fluid from a pregnant uterus. It can diagnose certain fetal or uterine conditions. These include blood type incompatibility between the fetus and mother, infections, genetic abnormalities, and a low or excessive amount of amniotic fluid. It can also determine if a baby’s lungs are developed enough for birth.

  • Arthrocentesis is the removal of synovial fluid from a joint. It can determine the cause of swelling (effusion). Arthrocentesis may also treat relieve joint pain by injecting medications or removing excessive or infected fluid from a joint.

  • Aspiration of a lump, cyst, tumor or mass can be performed in most organs and body areas to test for infection, cancer, or other problems. Examples include the breast, liver, neck or pancreas. Drainage of the fluid from a cyst is a common example of aspiration treatment.

  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy is the removal of bone marrow from the inside of a bone. It can test the production of healthy red blood cells. It may be ordered to help diagnose leukemia and other cancers and evaluate cancer treatment. Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy can also diagnose certain chromosomal abnormalities and the cause of low blood counts or fever.

  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the removal of fluid from the spine. It can test for infections and inflammatory diseases of the spine and nervous system. Lumbar puncture can also be used to inject certain medications, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy.

  • Thoracentesis (pleural tap) is the removal of fluid from the space aroun