Thoracentesis in the ICU
What is a thoracentesis?
A thoracentesis is a procedure that removes fluid from the space between your lungs and your chest wall (pleural space).
Why is it done?
- Recent fluid build-up with no clear cause.
- To help diagnose an infection.
- To help diagnose cancer.
- To remove fluid and help the patient breathe with less effort.
How is it done?
- You will be asked to return to your bed.
- The skin around the procedure site will be cleaned and sterile drapes will be placed around the site.
- Numbing medicine will be injected into your skin to lessen the pain.
- A needle or thin, plastic tube will be placed between the ribs and into the chest.
- A small sample of fluid can be removed for testing. This helps the doctor to figure out what may be causing the fluid build-up in the spaces around the lungs (pleural effusion).
- If there is excess fluid in the chest, the doctor may remove some of it. This is especially helpful if there is so much fluid that you are in pain and having trouble breathing.
The procedure most often does not cause serious problems, but some risks are involved. These include:
- Pain - Patients may feel a poke as the doctor inserts the needle into the chest. Numbing drugs will be used to lessen the pain. Once the needle is in, the pain is often mild and goes away.
- Bleeding - When the doctor inserts the needle, there is a risk of nicking a blood vessel. If this happens, the bleeding is often minor and stops on its own. Patients may notice a bruise. Rarely, bleeding can occur in or around the lungs and require surgery.
- Collapsed lung - Rarely, the needle punctures the lung. Most often, the small hole seals over quickly by itself. If not, air can build-up around the lung and cause it to collapse (pneumothorax). If this were to occur, the doctor may need to insert a chest tube to drain air from around the lung.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 10/30/2013
Copyright © 10/30/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6340
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