Computed tomography and ultrasound in parapneumonic effusions and empyema

Clin Radiol. 2000 Jul;55(7):542-7. doi: 10.1053/crad.1999.0480.


Aim: Imaging of pleural empyema by ultrasound (US) or computed tomography (CT) is used to confirm the diagnosis and facilitate drainage. However, the information gained from US and CT may also have prognostic significance. The aim of the present study was to determine if CT and US appearances correlated with the severity of infection as determined by established microbiological and biochemical indicators, and to establish whether either technique could predict those patients who will fail drainage and require surgery.

Materials and methods: Fifty patients with parapneumonic effusions were assessed. All had thoracic CT and the results of thoracic US were available in 36 patients. Imaging features were compared to the stage of the effusion and clinical outcome.

Results: At US, 7/36 (19%) pleural collections were anechoic, 5/36 (14%) were hyperechoic without septae and 24/36 (67%) were hyperechoic with septae. There was no relationship between US appearances and the presence of pus, the effusion stage or the need for surgical treatment. On CT pleural enhancement was seen in all patients. There was evidence of pleural thickening in 46/50 (92%) and thickening of extrapleural fat in 38/50 (76%). There was a trend for mean pleural thickness to increase with an increasing stage of pleural infection. However, a wide range of appearances were seen and overall the thickness of pleural/extrapleural tissues was not significantly related to the stage of effusion or to the requirement for surgery.

Conclusions: Although US and CT have established roles in the investigation of parapneumonic effusions, neither technique reliably identifies the stage of pleural infection or predicts those patients who subsequently require surgical intervention after failed management by chest tube drainage and intrapleural fibrinolytics. Kearney, S. E. (2000). Clinical Radiology 55, 542-547.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Empyema, Pleural / diagnostic imaging*
  • Empyema, Pleural / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pleural Effusion / microbiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Ultrasonography