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Keywords:

  • critically ill;
  • mechanical ventilation;
  • pleural effusion;
  • thoracocentesis

ABSTRACT

Despite 50–60% of intensive care patients demonstrating evidence of pleural effusions, there has been little emphasis placed on the role of effusions in the aetiology of weaning failure. Critical illness and mechanical ventilation lead to multiple perturbations of the normal physiological processes regulating pleural fluid homeostasis, and consequently, failure of normal pleural function occurs. Effusions can lead to deleterious effects on respiratory mechanics and gas exchange, and when extensive, may lead to haemodynamic compromise. The widespread availability of bedside ultrasound has not only facilitated earlier detection of pleural effusions but also safer fluid sampling and drainage. In the majority of patients, pleural drainage leads to improvements in lung function, with data from spontaneously breathing individuals demonstrating a consistent symptomatic improvement, while a meta-analysis in critically ill patients shows an improvement in oxygenation. The effects on respiratory mechanics are less clear, possibly reflecting heterogeneity of underlying pathology. Limited data on clinical outcome from pleural fluid drainage exist; however, it appears to be a safe procedure with a low risk of major complications. The current level of evidence would support a clinical trial to determine whether the systematic detection and drainage of pleural effusions improve clinical outcomes.