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ISRN Emergency Medicine
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 676524, 10 pages
Review Article

Ultrasound for the Detection of Pleural Effusions and Guidance of the Thoracentesis Procedure

1Department of Emergency Medicine, USC Medical Center, General Hospital, 1200 State Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA
2Division of Emergency Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, 300 Pasteur Drive, Alway Building, M121, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

Received 5 August 2012; Accepted 23 August 2012

Academic Editors: R. Breitkreutz and C. C. Chang

Copyright © 2012 Kamila Sikora et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Objective. To review the use of ultrasound for the detection of pleural effusions and guidance of the thoracentesis procedure. Methods. Two clinical cases will be presented in which ultrasound proved beneficial in guiding the diagnosis and management of patients with pleural effusions and respiratory distress. The ultrasound techniques for the evaluation of pleural effusions and performance of the thoracentesis procedure are discussed. A review of the most current literature follows to present the known diagnostic and safety benefits of ultrasound guidance for thoracentesis. Conclusions. Ultrasound improves the diagnostic accuracy for the detection of pleural effusions over standard chest radiographs. Ultrasound can also diagnose a complicated pleural effusion that may be at higher risk for an adverse outcome during a thoracentesis. Optimally, thoracentesis should be performed under direct ultrasound guidance to decrease the complication rate and improve patient safety.