Safe and effective bedside thoracentesis: A review of the evidence for practicing clinicians



Physicians often care for patients with pleural effusion, a condition that requires thoracentesis for evaluation and treatment. We aim to identify the most recent advances related to safe and effective performance of thoracentesis.


We performed a narrative review with a systematic search of the literature. Two authors independently reviewed search results and selected studies based on relevance to thoracentesis; disagreements were resolved by consensus. Articles were categorized as those related to the pre-, intra- and postprocedural aspects of thoracentesis.


Sixty relevant studies were identified and included. Pre-procedural topics included methods for physician training and maintenance of skills, such as simulation with direct observation. Additionally, pre-procedural topics included the finding that moderate coagulopathies (international normalized ratio less than 3 or a platelet count greater than 25,000/µL) and mechanical ventilation did not increase risk of postprocedural complications. Intraprocedurally, ultrasound use was associated with lower risk of pneumothorax, while pleural manometry can identify a nonexpanding lung and may help reduce risk of re-expansion pulmonary edema. Postprocedurally, studies indicate that routine chest X-ray is unwarranted, because bedside ultrasound can identify pneumothorax.


While the performance of thoracentesis is not without risk, clinicians can incorporate recent advances into practice to mitigate patient harm and improve effectiveness. Journal of Hospital Medicine 2017;12:266-276. © 2017 Society of Hospital Medicine

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