Pleural Interventions in the Management of Hepatic Hydrothorax

Chest. 2022 Jan;161(1):276-283. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2021.08.043. Epub 2021 Aug 12.


Hepatic hydrothorax can be present in 5% to 15% of patients with underlying cirrhosis and portal hypertension, often reflecting advanced liver disease. Its impact can be variable, because patients may have small pleural effusions and minimal pulmonary symptoms or massive pleural effusions and respiratory failure. Management of hepatic hydrothorax can be difficult because these patients often have a number of comorbidities and potential for complications. Minimal high-quality data are available for guidance specifically related to hepatic hydrothorax, potentially resulting in pulmonary or critical care physician struggling for best management options. We therefore provide a Case-based presentation with management options based on currently available data and opinion. We discuss the role of pleural interventions, including thoracentesis, tube thoracostomy, indwelling tunneled pleural catheter, pleurodesis, and surgical interventions. In general, we recommend that management be conducted within a multidisciplinary team including pulmonology, hepatology, and transplant surgery. Patients with refractory hepatic hydrothorax that are not transplant candidates should be managed with palliative intent; we suggest indwelling tunneled pleural catheter placement unless otherwise contraindicated. For patients with unclear or incomplete hepatology treatment plans or those unable to undergo more definitive procedures, we recommend serial thoracentesis. In patients who are transplant candidates, we often consider serial thoracentesis as a standard treatment, while also evaluating the role indwelling tunneled pleural catheter placement may play within the course of disease and transplant evaluation.

Keywords: hepatic hydrothorax; indwelling tunneled pleural catheter; pleurodesis; thoracentesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catheters, Indwelling
  • Chest Tubes
  • Disease Management
  • Humans
  • Hydrothorax / etiology
  • Hydrothorax / therapy*
  • Hypertension, Portal / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Diseases / complications
  • Pleural Cavity
  • Pleural Effusion / etiology
  • Pleural Effusion / therapy*
  • Pleurodesis*
  • Thoracentesis*
  • Thoracostomy*