Resources for Patients and their Families

Peritoneal Effusion

Mesothelioma Symptoms

As mesothelioma cancer develops, individuals may present health issues that appear to be asymptomatic. Generalized abdominal or chest pain with difficulty breathing may appear to be a lung-related infection.

It is imperative that with any individuals who may have been exposed to asbestos discloses that information directly with their primary care physician. Often, asymptomatic individuals may dismiss the symptoms as something common, and when symptoms rapidly progress, the diagnosis may be devastating. Early detection and diagnosis for pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma or pericardial mesothelioma can drastically improve an individual’s overall prognosis. Without early detection, an individual may be subjected to malignant mesothelioma.

An effusion is a large amount of fluid, and is not a condition in of itself, but rather a symptom of a greater disease. For mesothelioma patients, effusion is a common presentation and can affect the pleura, peritoneum or pericardium. The mesothelium is the protective linings surrounding different body cavities. The pleura are the lining around the lung region, peritoneum surrounds the abdominal cavity and the pericardium surrounds the heart sac. Effusion is common with peritoneal mesothelioma.

Normally, a small amount of lubricating fluid is found in the peritoneum. This fluid comes from the surrounding tissue and vessels. If the fluid exceeds the normal amount – usually a couple of teaspoons – an individual may have an effusion.

If an effusion is present, the collection and retention of fluid inhibits the function of the organ. Abdominal pain can signal an effusion, though pain may also be associated with other conditions of the pelvic region and should be ruled out during a medical examination.

When fluid collects in the peritoneum – the lining around the abdominal cavity – it is a symptom of advanced peritoneal mesothelioma. Within the abdomen, the parietal peritoneum is the outer layer and visceral peritoneum is the inner layer. Parietal peritoneum lines the abdominal cavity, and visceral peritoneum surrounds the organs.

Like the pleura and pericardium, there is a small amount of fluid normally found between the parietal and visceral peritoneum. As with other forms of mesothelioma, when the peritoneum becomes inflamed due to cancer or cancerous growths, an effusion can occur.

Pain from a peritoneal effusion can come from the rapid fluid retention in the peritoneum, though individuals may present other symptoms including weight loss, abdominal swelling or bowel obstruction. With peritoneal effusion, weight loss may occur because of the increased pressure on the stomach, an individual may have pain or difficulty eating. Swelling of the abdomen may also place pressure on the bladder and intestines. Seemingly unassociated symptoms – like difficulty evacuating the bladder or bowels – may present before an effusion is diagnosed. Other symptoms of effusion include shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, fatigue or rapid heartbeat.

With some individuals, if the effusion is severe, the fluid may be drained through a surgically inserted chest tube. This has been proven to immediately provide symptom relief to effusion sufferers. Commonly, treatment for mesothelioma cancer, including chemotherapy, has been shown to relieve peritoneal effusion.

With the recent advancements in research, the prognosis for mesothelioma has dramatically improved over the years.

Effusion is a serious symptom that may further exacerbate other symptoms of mesothelioma cancers. If an individual presents classic signs of an effusion accompanied by symptoms common with mesothelioma and a history of asbestos exposure, seek immediate medical attention.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

Reviewer: Annette Charlevois

Patient Support Coordinator

Annette Charlevois


Alastair J. Moore, Robert J. Parker and John Wiggins. Department of Respiratory Medicine, Wexham Park Hospital, United Kingdom. Malignant Mesothelioma. December 19, 2008 Accessed on November 9, 2010.

The Merck Manual. Asbestos-Related Disorders. Accessed on November 9, 2010.

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