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Complications of thoracentesis: incidence, risk factors, and strategies for prevention

Cantey, Eric P.; Walter, James M.; Corbridge, Thomas; Barsuk, Jeffrey H.

Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine: July 2016 - Volume 22 - Issue 4 - p 378–385
doi: 10.1097/MCP.0000000000000285
DISEASES OF THE PLEURA: Edited by Richard Light

Purpose of review Although thoracentesis is generally considered safe, procedural complications are associated with increased morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs. In this article, we review the risk factors and prevention of the most common complications of thoracentesis including pneumothorax, bleeding (chest wall hematoma and hemothorax), and re-expansion pulmonary edema.

Recent findings Recent data support the importance of operator expertise and the use of ultrasound in reducing the risk of iatrogenic pneumothorax. Although coagulopathy or thrombocytopenia and the use of anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications have traditionally been viewed as contraindications to thoracentesis, new evidence suggests that patients may be able to safely undergo thoracentesis without treating their bleeding risk. Re-expansion pulmonary edema, a rare complication of thoracentesis, is felt to result in part from the generation of excessively negative pleural pressure. When and how to monitor changes in pleural pressure during thoracentesis remains a focus of ongoing study.

Summary Major complications of thoracentesis are uncommon. Clinician awareness of risk factors for procedural complications and familiarity with strategies that improve outcomes are essential components for safely performing thoracentesis.

aDepartment of Medicine

bDepartment of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

cDepartment of Medicine, Division of Hospital Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Correspondence to Jeffrey H. Barsuk, MD, MS, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Division of Hospital Medicine, 211 E Ontario Street, 7th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611, USA. E-mail:

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