Thoracentesis is a minor surgical procedure that drains fluid (effusion) from the pleural space between the ribs and the lungs. This space is lined with two layers of mesothelial membranes that secrete a fluid, which, in turn, allows the lungs to glide freely within the chest cavity. Without this freedom of movement, we would have difficulty breathing.
Pleural fibrosis, mesothelioma and many other diseases of the lung can cause irritation of the plural lining causing inflammation, and eventually development of fluid in this space. When the fluid is not reabsorbed naturally, it builds up and compresses the lungs. The compressed lung tissue can’t expand and contract, and so, can’t exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide–the essential purpose in breathing.
Thoracentesis is a simple procedure, though it is done with surgical preparation and sterility. The doctor cleans a spot on the soft muscle between two ribs that cover the area of the pleural effusion. He numbs the area with a local anesthetic, and then inserts a needle or small tube between the ribs into the pleural space. The pressure from inside the body forces the fluid out through the tube or needle, where it drains into a collection bottle.
Preparation is mostly a matter of gritting your teeth for a needle stick in the ribs. Draining the fluid should relieve the pressure on your lungs and allow you to breathe better, almost immediately. This is a minor procedure that can be done in the doctor’s office, and does not involve general anesthesia or extensive surgical preparation. If you are, otherwise, in good health, you should be able to go home with a prescription for antibiotics the same day.
Depending upon how long the fluid buildup has compressed the lung tissue, you may have to do some specific breathing exercises, or take aerosol treatments, to expand your lungs and clear out any mucus plugs that became trapped in the airways. The compressed lung tissue, called atelectasis, is predisposed to infection and pneumonia. It is important to work hard to expand your lungs, clear the mucus, and get plenty of rest.
Pleural effusion is a common complication of mesothelioma. To learn more about asbestos related diseases, please contact the lawyers with experience in mesothelioma claims, Brown | Kiely, LLP, in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C.