Recurrent pleural effusion complicating liver cirrhosis

Ann Thorac Surg. 2003 Mar;75(3):986-9. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(02)04548-4.


Background: Pleural effusion (PE) is a rare complication of advanced liver cirrhosis, which may lead to an operation when uncontrolled. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the modality of the occurrence of pleural effusion and to describe its surgical management.

Methods: We studied 21 patients who were referred to the department of thoracic surgery because of massive and recurrent PE caused by liver cirrhosis. The PE was a transudate in 16 patients and an exudate in 5. Talc pleurodesis was attempted in all patients. The patients were divided into two groups. Video assisted thoracoscopy was performed in 13 patients in whom the clinical condition permitted general anesthesia; the pleural cavity was entirely explored before pleurodesis (group 1). Chest tube drainage alone was performed in 8 patients who were unable to undergo general anesthesia; talc pleurodesis was performed through the chest tube in these patients (group 2).

Results: In group 1 the PE was right-sided in 8 patients, left-sided in 3, and bilateral in 2. Diaphragmatic defects were observed in 2 patients, and a fluid leak oozing from the diaphragm was observed in 1 patient. Ten patients were considered cured and were without recurrence. Two patients underwent late recurrence before dying from their liver cirrhosis. Only 1 patient had an early recurrence that was cured by complementary talc slurry. In group 2 all patients presented with a right PE; of these, 3 patients died from septic shock caused by pleural infection. Three patients underwent early recurrence but were cured after repeat talc slurry. One patient had a midterm recurrence. One patient had an early recurrence treated by intrahepatic porto-systemic shunt with partial improvement.

Conclusions: Passage of ascites through diaphragmatic defects appears to be the main cause of PE complicating cirrhosis. Patients may benefit from talc pleurodesis. Video assisted thoracoscopy pleurodesis is the technique of choice with consistent results. Repeated talc injection through the drain may prove useful for patients in poor clinical status.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chest Tubes*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis
  • Liver Cirrhosis / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnosis
  • Pleural Effusion / surgery*
  • Pleurodesis*
  • Recurrence
  • Reoperation
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted*