CT Scan of the Chest for Pleural Effusion: What to Expect

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Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is a medical condition that causes excess fluid to accumulate in the layers of the pleura located just outside the lungs. This condition is often referred to as “water on the lungs”. The area known as the pleura, where the fluid accumulates, are thin membranes that lubricate the lungs while breathing. It is normal for very small amounts of fluid to be present in this area, but occasionally it can begin to accumulate, causing pleural effusion.

Diagnosis: What to Expect

Use of a CT scan of the chest for pleural effusion is the most common way to diagnose this condition. For this test, the X-ray technician will have you lie on a narrow, flat table. Your arms will most likely be placed above your head to allow clear shots of the chest. The table will begin to move in and out of the CT machine, as images of the chest are taken. The images are taken by X-ray beams that are shot through the chest from multiple angles. Sometimes, a doctor may require contrast dyes to be injected into the veins. This allows a clearer image to be received for the CT scan

Preparation for CT scan

Preparation for the CT scan is simple. You can not eat or drink anything 4 to 6 hours before the test is to take place. Metal jewelry has to be removed from the body because it can interfere with the imaging process. If you suffer from claustrophobia, a calming medication may need to be given.

Risks of CT scan

If a contrast dye is used during the test, an allergic reaction may occur. You will be asked to drink extra fluids to help speed the dye as it is flushed from the body. People suffering from claustrophobia may suffer from anxiety issues.


The CT scan can confirm pleural effusion in the chest. If the test images show swelling in the membranes around the lungs or a fluid accumulation in this area, pleural effusion can be confirmed. Once this condition has been diagnosed, the correct treatment option will be chosen.


“Pleural Effusion- Heart & Vascular Institute Overview” 2006 www.clevelandclinic.org

“Chest CT Scan” By Stephanie Slon, BA August 4, 2001 www.helthopedia.com