What is Bilateral Pleural Effusion?

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  • Written By: Angela Crout-Mitchell
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 February 2019
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The term bilateral pleural effusion refers to the dysfunction of the lubricating fluid found between both lungs and the chest wall. The space where the fluid is located is called the pleura, and it plays a vital role in the health and function of the lungs as well as the rest of the respiratory system. There are three main variants of this pulmonary disorder: transudative pleural effusion is characterized as fluid leaking into the pleura space, exudative pleural effusion is caused by the presence of leaking blood vessels, and a third type is caused by tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other bacterial infections. Problems breathing and chest pain are common symptoms.

The transudative form is caused by an excess of fluid accumulating in the pleura cavities. This complication can be the result of a pulmonary embolism or a preexisting cirrhosis condition. It is also not uncommon for this type of effusion to occur in heart patients, especially those who have recently had heart surgery. Patients who have failure of or damage to the left ventricle of the heart also appear to contract transudative pleural effusion more often than when the original damage occurred on the right side.


Exudative plual effusion is caused by blood vessels leaking into the pleura space. This condition can be brought on by a variety of disorders, including lung cancer, breast cancer, and a number of respiratory diseases that add strain to the vascular system in that area. Some medications can also create this condition, though it is often left untreated because the symptoms and the disorder typically vanish shortly after the medication is stopped.

In some cases, bilateral pleural effusion is the result of common illnesses such as arthritis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and bacterial infections. These cases are usually easier to diagnose and treat than the other forms and can often be cleared up in a relatively short period of time. The use of antibiotics is typically incredibly useful in eliminating both the cause and the pleural effusion in these cases.

Regardless of the cause of this condition, the symptoms are often very similar. The first symptom most patients notice is a feeling of compression in the chest cavity and chest pain. It is important to note that not all patients feel pain from this condition, and as such, medical professionals are careful to monitor other symptom complaints. With fluid accumulating around the lungs, breathing problems are common and often a red flag to caregivers.


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Post 5

I am 29 and I was diagnosed with minimal bilateral pleural effusion. I've smoked regularly for 14 years. I have no problems in breathing, no cough, no fever etc., but I do have rusty sputum in the morning. I hope there's nothing serious.

Post 4

@Perdido – Different bilateral pleural effusions come with different types of cough. Mine was caused by bacterial pneumonia, so I had a very productive cough.

I coughed up phlegm and blood. I felt like I would die from shortness of breath, and every breath I took came with a fit of coughing.

My doctor did thoracentesis on me. He drained the excess fluid out from between my ribs after numbing the area with a shot, and he gave me antibiotics. It took awhile to recover, because it was severe, but I eventually got better.

Post 3

@Perdido – I just felt pressure and sudden pains when I had a bilateral pleural effusion. I felt the need to cough, but it was the kind of cough where you feel like the air has suddenly been knocked out of your body.

It wasn't the kind of cough that comes with bronchitis, where you cough up phlegm and feel like you are drowning in it. I think that the cough might have been the result of the fluid pressing on my lungs, since it was kind of involuntary. I didn't cough up anything, so it could be called a dry cough.

Post 2

I've never experienced a pleural effusion, but I imagine it would be terrifying. Does the excess pleural fluid make you feel as if you are drowning, or can you even tell that fluid is present? I'm trying to envision whether it is just pressure and pain or if it actually feels like your lungs have fluid surrounding them.

Post 1

My great-grandmother had recurring pleural effusions, so she opted to wear a full-time drainage tube. She had the catheter put in at a hospital, and she learned how to drain the fluid whenever it was necessary.

She had a nurse who came to check on her a couple of times a day. Any time that you have a catheter inside your body, you need to be supervised periodically.

She lived for several months with this chest drainage tube. We all knew that the end was near, but it was great that she could stay at home instead of having to camp out in a hospital.

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