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Pleural Effusion

Mesothelioma Symptoms

If an individual presents symptoms of shortness of breath, dysphagia or difficulty swallowing and chest pain, a medical professional should inquire whether there is a history of prolonged asbestos exposure. With this combination, asbestos disease is usually the diagnosis. However, in some cases, the asbestos disease can progress into mesothelioma.

With mesothelioma, an effusion is a common symptom that can inhibit the normal function of the affected organ. In some cases, the presentation of an effusion signals advancement of the disease or malignant mesothelioma. In addition, effusion may result from a secondary condition like pneumonia or other lung diseases.

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 pleural mesothelioma.

Simply put, an effusion is a large amount of fluid. The presence of it is a symptom of a greater disease. For mesothelioma patients, effusion is common and can affect the pleura or pericardium. Fluid collects in the lining between the lungs and chest cavity with a pleural effusion.

Normally, a small amount of lubricating fluid is found in the pleura, pericardium or peritoneum. This fluid comes from the surrounding tissue and vessels. If the fluid exceeds the normal amount – usually a couple of teaspoons – and is not evacuated naturally, an effusion occurs.

If an effusion is present, the collection and retention of fluid inhibits the function of the organ that it is affecting. With pleural effusion – exudate pleural effusion – extreme pressure on the lungs prevents normal breathing and can cause wheezing or shortness of breath.

Exudate pleural effusion is caused by inflammation of the lung from a tumor growth. Sometimes a transudate pleural effusion occurs with mesothelioma when fluid leaks from distressed blood vessels. Often, mesothelioma cancers present symptoms of both transudate and exudate pleural effusion.

The risk with a pleural effusion includes collapsing of the lung or atelectasis. The lung is unable to fully expand, inhabiting breathing. Collection of fluid in the pleura can also lead to pneumonia or other lung disorders, and can present along with pleural mesothelioma.

Symptoms of effusion includes shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, fatigue or rapid heartbeat. Some individuals experience a drowning or suffocating sensation with a pleural effusion.

Diagnosis of a pleural effusion includes an individual’s medical history, exam and a chest x-ray. Shadows surrounding the lung in a chest x-ray usually point to an effusion.

Chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma can relieve effusion. However, in some cases, if the effusion is severe, the fluid may be drained through a surgically inserted chest tube.

With the constant advancements in research, the survival rate for mesothelioma has drastically improved over the years. Effusion is a serious symptom that may further exacerbate other symptoms of mesothelioma cancer. 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


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. Accessed on November 9, 2010. - S05_CH060_T002

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