Hepatic hydrothorax: current concepts of pathophysiology and treatment options

Ann Hepatol. 2008 Oct-Dec;7(4):313-20.


Pleural effusions develop in 6-10% of patients with end-stage liver disease. Although, commonly seen in conjunction with ascites, isolated hepatic hydrothorax can occur in a small number of patients with cirrhosis. Refractory hepatic hydrothorax particularly poses a challenging therapeutic dilemma as treatment options are limited at best in these patients. Current patho-physiologic understanding of this disorder, as a cause, points towards the presence of diaphragmatic defects responsible for the shift of fluid from the peritoneal to the pleural cavity. When sodium restriction and diuretic treatment fail, liver transplantation remains the most definitive therapy in these refractory cases. However, transjugular intrahepatic porto-systemic shunt (TIPS), or video-assisted thoracoscopic (VATS) repair of the diaphragmatic defects (with or without pleurodesis) are effective strategies in those who are not transplant candidates or those awaiting organ availability. Hepatic hydrothorax, especially when refractory to medical treatment, poses a challenging management dilemma. An early recognition and familiarity with available treatment modalities is crucial to effectively manage this exigent complication of cirrhosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diuretics / administration & dosage
  • Diuretics / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydrothorax / etiology
  • Hydrothorax / physiopathology*
  • Hydrothorax / therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / therapy
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Pleural Effusion / etiology
  • Pleural Effusion / physiopathology*
  • Pleural Effusion / therapy*
  • Pleurodesis
  • Portasystemic Shunt, Transjugular Intrahepatic
  • Prognosis
  • Thoracic Surgery, Video-Assisted
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Diuretics