Introduction: Pleural effusion is a common clinical problem. Yet, in a significant proportion of patients (~20%), the cause of pleural effusion remains unknown. Understanding the diagnostic value of pleural fluid tests is crucial for the development of accurate diagnostic models.Areas covered: This paper provides an overview of latest advances in the diagnosis of pleural effusion based on the best evidence available.Expert opinion: For pleural fluid tests to have a good diagnostic value, it is necessary that data obtained from clinical history, physical examination, and radiological studies are correctly interpreted. Thoracentesis and pleural biopsy should always be performed under image guidance to improve its diagnostic sensitivity and prevent complications. Nucleic acid amplification tests, pleural tissue cultures, and collection of pleural fluid in blood culture bottles improve the diagnostic yield of pleural fluid cultures. Although undiagnosed pleural effusions generally have a favorable prognosis, follow-up is recommended to prevent the development of a malignant pleural effusion.
Keywords: Chylothorax; empyema; heart failure; infectious pleural effusion; malignant pleural effusion; pleural fluid; systemic diseases; tuberculous pleural effusion; undiagnosed pleural effusion.