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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Tests & Diagnosis

There are a number of tests used to both diagnose and evaluate the type and cause of pleural effusion. They include:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest
  • Ultrasound of the chest
  • Thoracentesis (a fluid biopsy—a needle inserted between the ribs to remove a sample of the fluid)
  • Pleural fluid analysis (laboratory and/or microscopic examination of the fluid removed from the pleural space)

If the above tests are not adequate to diagnose and evaluate the pleural effusion, a more invasive test, called a thoracoscopy may be performed. It is a minimally invasive procedure that is performed when the patient is under general anesthesia. With one or two small (5–10mm) incisions, the surgeon can visually evaluate the pleura and biopsy and/or treat the underlying cause. This type of procedure is also called a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). Most of the time, when a physician performs VATS, he or she will combine the diagnosis of the type of effusion with treatment of the effusion.


If you are concerned about pleural effusion or other lung diseases, please contact your physician to discuss ways to reduce your risk and whether or not you should be screened. If you do not have a physician, call our Physician Referral Service at 1-877-926-4664 or request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateJune 16, 2011


To make an appointment with a physician, please call 1-877-926-4664.

New patients can request an appointment online.