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What is a thoracentesis (pleural tap)?

Thoracentesis (pleural tap)

A thoracentesis (pleural tap) is a procedure that removes fluid from around the lungs, or pleural fluid. Your doctor may recommend a thoracentesis to diagnose and guide treatment for certain diseases, such as cancer, infections, and heart failure. 

Pleural fluid cushions and lubricates the lungs as they expand and contract with breathing. Pleural fluid is located in the pleural space, the space inside the lining that covers the lungs and inside of your chest. Certain diseases and conditions cause a buildup of pus, blood, or too much pleural fluid in the pleural space. This is called pleural effusion, which can put pressure on the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. 

A thoracentesis is only one method of diagnosing and treating pleural effusion and underlying problems. Discuss all of your testing options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 3, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Thoracentesis. American Thoracic Society. http://patients.thoracic.org/information-series/en/resources/thoracentesis.pdf.
  2. Thoracentesis. Johns Hopkins Hospital. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/pulmonary/thoracentesis_92,P07761/.
  3. What is a Thoracentesis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/thor/.

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