Pleural Effusion - Signs and Symptoms

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What are the symptoms and signs of pleural effusion?

Shortness of breath is the most common symptom of a pleural effusion. As the effusion grows larger with more fluid, the harder it is for the lung to expand and the more difficult it is for the patient to breathe.

Chest pain occurs because the pleural lining of the lung is irritated. The pain is usually described as pleuritic, defined as a sharp pain, worsening with a deep breath. While the pain may be localized to the chest, if the effusion causes inflammation of the diaphragm (the muscle that divides the chest from the abdominal cavity) the pain may be referred to the shoulder or the upper abdomen. As the pleural effusion increases in size, the pain may increase.

Other associated symptoms are due to the underlying disease. For example, individuals with:

  • congestive heart failure may complain of swelling of their feet and shortness of breath when laying flat, (orthopnea) or wakening them in the middle of the night (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea);
  • tuberculosis may be have night sweats, cough up blood (hemoptysis), and lose weight;
  • hemoptysis may have associated infection and lung cancer;
  • pneumonia may complain of fever, shaking chills, cough producing colored sputum and pleuritic pain.
Return to Pleural Effusion

See what others are saying

Comment from: Sajjad Amin Bangash, 35-44 Male (Patient) Published: September 25

Two years ago, I had been infected by pneumonia, which caused me to form a pleural effusion. Although I had treated it, my weight has substantially increased as I had lost a huge amount of weight during that disease. After a lapse of years, I have done X-rays and the radiologist confirmed the existence of a pleural effusion. Oddly, I don't feel any shortness of breath.

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