How It Is Done
This procedure may be done in your doctor's office, in the X-ray department of a hospital, in an emergency room, or at your bedside in the hospital. Your doctor may have a nurse assist with the procedure.
You will need to take off all or most of your clothes (you may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not interfere with the procedure). You will be given a cloth or paper covering to use during the procedure. During the procedure, you will be seated but leaning forward on a padded bedside table. If your test is done in the X-ray department, X-rays or an ultrasound may be used to confirm the location of fluid in your chest.
The needle site between your ribs will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution. Your doctor will give you a local anesthetic in your chest wall so you won't feel any pain when the longer needle that withdraws the fluid is inserted. Once the area is numb, your doctor will insert the needle to where the fluid has collected (pleural space). You may feel some mild pain or pressure as the needle enters the pleural space.
A syringe or a small tube attached to a vacuum bottle is used to remove the pleural fluid. Your doctor will collect fluid to send to the lab. Once the fluid is removed, the needle or small tube is removed and a bandage is put on the site.
This procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
After the test
An X-ray may be taken right after the procedure to make sure that no complications have occurred.
If more pleural fluid collects and needs to be removed, another thoracentesis may be done later.
How It Feels
When you are given the shot to numb your skin at the needle site, you will feel a sharp stinging or burning sensation that lasts a few seconds. When the needle is inserted into the chest wall, you may again feel a sharp pain for a few seconds.
When the pleural fluid is removed, you may feel a sense of "pulling" or pressure in your chest. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel faint or if you have any shortness of breath, chest pain, or uncontrollable cough.
If a large amount of pleural fluid was removed during the procedure, you will probably be able to breathe more easily.