Hepatic hydrothorax

Semin Liver Dis. 1997;17(3):227-32. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-1007200.


Ascites is a common manifestation of portal hypertension in patients with cirrhosis. Approximately 5% of patients with cirrhosis may develop a pleural effusion. This is usually right sided. In the absence of cardiac or lung disease, the presence of a pleural effusion in a cirrhotic patient is known as hepatic hydrothorax. Small volumes of fluid within the pleura may be associated with significant respiratory symptoms which require the clinician to rapidly remove the fluid. The development of hepatic hydrothorax is secondary to passage of ascites from the abdomen to the pleural space via defects in the diaphragm. Once the diagnosis of hepatic hydrothorax is established with certainty, medical therapy with salt restriction and diuretics is initiated. When these measures are ineffective the patient has refractory hepatic hydrothorax. Based on current studies, transjugular intrahepatic portal systemic shunts appear to be the most effective form of treatment for these patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ascites / etiology*
  • Chest Tubes
  • Drainage
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / complications
  • Hypertension, Portal / etiology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnosis
  • Pleural Effusion / etiology*
  • Pleural Effusion / therapy
  • Portasystemic Shunt, Transjugular Intrahepatic