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Thoracentesis is a procedure in which a large needle is inserted into the pleural space so that excess pleural fluid can be removed. This is done for two reasons. One reason for this test is so that pain, pressure, and shortness of breath can be relieved with the removal of this excess fluid. Another use for the test is to help determine what is causing a buildup up pleural fluid. Because a large needle is being inserted into the pleural space, one of the risks associated with this procedure is a partially collapsed lung following the procedure. The medical term for this problem is pneumothorax.
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Pneumothorax can be caused by several things, but pneumothorax after thoracentesis is caused by the lung being punctured by the needle used to perform the procedure. When the lung is punctured by the needle, it partially collapses and air is allowed to flow into the pleural space.
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The symptoms of pneumothorax are concentrated in the respiratory and cardiac systems. These symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, bluish color of the skin, chest tightness, and rapid heart rate. Low blood pressure and nasal flaring may also occur when a pneumothorax is present.
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Upon physical examination, a physician will note decreased breath sounds or no breath sounds on the side of the partial collapse. Chest x-rays can show if there is air outside of the lung and in the pleural space. Doctors may also order arterial blood gas levels to determine if a pneumothorax is present. Once the condition has been diagnosed, there are several possible treatments.
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If the pneumothorax is small, it may go away on its own. If the pneumothorax is large, a chest tube may be used to drain air from the pleural space and allow the partially collapsed lung expand again. Patients with pneumothoraces may be given oxygen so that the air around the lung is absorbed more quickly. People given chest tubes to drain the air will be kept in the hospital for observation. If a pneumothorax is very large, surgery may be done to prevent further complications.
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New York Times Health Guide. "Pneumothorax." Accessed 30 June 2009.