The respiratory system of the human body consists of the nasal passages, pharynx, voice box, wind pipe, bronchial tubes and the lungs. These organs work collectively so as to facilitate the process of breathing. Nasal passages, pharynx, trachea and the bronchial tubes act as conduit for the air. The air travels through these organs before it reaches the lungs, which are paired organs that are located at the either side of the breastbone in the thoracic cavity. Once the air reaches the lungs, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place within the alveolar sacs that are located in the lungs. These alveolar sacs are surrounded by capillaries. While oxygen passes into these capillaries, carbon dioxide in the blood passes into the alveolar sacs and is then pushed upwards and exhaled. The lungs oxygenate the blood, while the heart pumps this oxygenated blood to various parts of the body. There are two layers of serous membranes, one of them lines the lungs and the other lines the inner walls of the chest cavity. This two-layered membranous structure is referred to as pleura. A small amount of fluid is present within these two layers. As the lungs inflate and deflate during respiration, this fluid prevents friction between these layers. When large amounts of fluid collects inside the pleural space, one is diagnosed with pleural effusion. In this article, we will look into the risk factors of pleural effusion along with its complications.
Risk Factors for Pleural Effusion
Before moving on to the complications that are associated with pleural effusion, let's look into the risk factors for pleural effusion. As mentioned earlier, the heart and the lungs work in tandem in order to facilitate deliverance of oxygenated blood to the various parts of the body. Thus, a malfunctioning heart could put one at a risk of developing pleural effusion. Congestive heart failure is one such condition wherein the heart's pumping mechanism is adversely affected. When the heart is unable to pump blood properly, blood may back into the veins. Fluid may seep out from the blood vessels and may get accumulated in the pleural space. Low protein levels in blood can also increase the risk of pleural effusion.
While leakage of fluid into the pleural space is referred to as transudative pleural effusion, leakage from blood vessels that occurs as a result of pleural inflammation is called exudative pleural effusion. Pneumonia, cancer, tuberculosis and lung infections are some of the conditions that may cause inflammation of pleura. Besides the symptoms that result from the underlying conditions, the symptoms one may experience due to pleural effusion would include rapid or labored breathing, cough, chest pain, fever, hiccups or shortness of breath.
Complications of Pleural Effusion
Pleural effusion is a serious condition, and if one doesn't seek medical assistance soon, there is a great likelihood of one developing certain complications. First of all, the accumulation of fluid may interfere with the functioning of the lungs. The pleural space contains a small amount of fluid, and the presence of small amounts of fluid prevents the membranes from rubbing against each other. If a lot of fluid accumulates, the lungs may not be able to expand freely, and this will interfere with the process of breathing. Moreover, the air that has accumulated in the pleura may exert pressure and give rise to chest pain. Development of empyemas or localized collection of pus is another complication that may arise if the pleural fluid gets infected. This is the reason why a diagnostic procedure called thoracentesis is ordered for those who have been diagnosed with pleural effusion. Thoracentesis, also known as pleural tap, involves insertion of a small needle through the chest wall. Once the fluid sample has been collected through thoracentesis, it is tested in a laboratory. If the tests reveal the presence of bacteria or pathogens, drugs may be prescribed for treating the infection.
Though thoracentesis is a useful diagnostic tool, complications may result if the needle is not inserted in the right manner. Great care must be taken while inserting the needle. There's a great risk of lungs getting punctured due to the wrong handling of the needle. Insertion of the needle may cause air to enter into the pleural space. If left untreated, the accumulated air may exert pressure on the lungs and cause them to collapse partially or completely. This condition is medically referred to as pneumothorax. If one does suffer from pneumothorax, the treatment would involve drainage of the air from the pleural space. On the other hand, the treatment of pleural effusion would involve the drainage of pleural fluid. If pleural fluid has become infected, antibiotics or other drugs would be prescribed. The presence of cancerous cells in pleural fluid is medically referred to as malignant pleural effusion. Those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer must undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other any other suggested cancer treatment to prevent respiratory distress or any other complication associated with malignant pleural effusion. Severe breathing problems could give rise to a life-threatening situation, and under such circumstances, oxygen therapy would be required.
This was some information on pleural effusion complications. The lungs are definitely the most important respiratory organ, which is why, coughing, breathing problems or other indicators of poor lung health must be taken seriously. Medical attention must be immediately sought by those who experience such symptoms. A timely diagnosis and treatment can help in averting a medical crisis.