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The pleura is a thin membrane that covers the lungs and lines the inside of the chest. When there’s a problem in the pleural area, it can be due to inflammation of the pleura, or a buildup of fluid, air, gas or oxygen in the pleural cavity.

At WakeMed, our thoracic surgeons offer comprehensive care for pleural diseases, which vary widely and can cause trauma and pain in the chest. We leverage the newest technologies available, including minimally invasive and robotic thoracic surgery techniques whenever possible — to minimize the risk of complications, reduce blood loss and enhance recovery.

Types and Causes of Pleural Diseases

The most common types of pleural diseases include: • Pleurisy, which is an infection of the pleural cavity. This is often caused by a viral infection.

  • Pleural effusion, which is the buildup of fluid in the pleural cavity. This is commonly caused by congestive heart failure.
  • Pneumothorax, which is the buildup of air or gas in the pleural cavity. Other lung diseases, like COPD and tuberculosis are often the cause.
  • Hemothorax, which is the buildup of blood in the pleural cavity, commonly caused by a traumatic injury to the chest.

Symptoms of Pleural Diseases

Common symptoms of pleural diseases can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain that is often sharp or stabbing
  • Fever and chills
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Fatigue

Diagnosing Pleural Diseases

If we suspect a pleural disease, our doctors will take a detailed health history and perform a thorough physical exam, including listening to the heart and lungs.

We may order diagnostic tests, including blood tests or biopsies, to look for signs of pleural disease or to rule out other conditions. Imaging scans can also be helpful, to find pockets of fluid or air in the pleural cavity and can include ultrasound, magnetic resonance image (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans.

Treating Pleural Diseases

Treating pleural diseases focuses on removing the fluid, air or blood from the pleural space, which should relieve symptoms. Often, treating the underlying condition helps and further medical intervention isn’t necessary.

In cases that require surgery to remove the fluid, air or blood, WakeMed’s thoracic surgery team offers both robotic and video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS), in which the thoracic surgery is performed using a small video camera introduced into the patient's chest through small incisions. The patient is placed under general anesthesia for the procedure, which takes a few hours.

Make an Appointment

We welcome new patients. If you’d like to meet with one of WakeMed’s thoracic experts, please make an appointment by calling us at 919-231-6333.