What happens during a thoracentesis procedure?

A thoracentesis procedure at Piedmont Healthcare involves drainage of fluid from the chest (pleural) space by placing a catheter (tubing) in the space to remove the fluid, allowing the lung to re-expand. This process involves cleansing the skin with an antiseptic solution, numbing the area with a small amount of local anesthetic such as lidocaine, and then inserting first a needle and then a plastic tube (catheter) to drain fluid from the affected lung. 

The procedure is done to ease your breathing and remove an obstruction that prevents the lung from filling with air. The collected fluid may be sent for analysis to identify abnormal cells or infection (cytology). You may feel slightly weak at the end of the procedure due to the removal of fluid from the lung space, and you will remain in the room until you feel better. 

Additionally you may have some soreness in the back and shoulder as the lung re-expands. This will usually pass quickly and is due to the lung stretching back into the space. After the procedure, a chest x-ray will be performed in the room. After it is viewed by your physician, you will be released. The tests on the fluid will take one to three days to get back to your physician, who will discuss any results with you.


What activities can I perform after I go home?

You may resume your normal activities except: do not shower the day of your procedure and do not engage in heavy activity such as lifting. A dressing will be placed on the site, which you may remove the next day. You will be able to drive, but it is advisable to have someone to drive you home.


Frequently Asked Questions

Will I be asleep for the procedure?
No, you will receive a small injection and a local anesthetic agent. You will be asked to sit up during the procedure to allow the physician access to your back. You will remain sitting up until the procedure is finished. If you become dizzy or have pain, please let the nurse know.

How long will the procedure last?
It will take 30-45 minutes to register, and the procedure takes 20-30 minutes. An additional 30-45 minutes will be needed for the x-ray to be obtained and read by the physician. You may need to stay longer if you are still weak.

Will the fluid come back?
Usually, the fluid will not re-accumulate. The physician will have you follow up with either him/her or your regular doctor. Please report any shortness of breath or other complaints to your doctor.

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