Treatments for Pleural Disease

In addition to our other lung and thoracic medical experts, Henry Ford Health System has one of the nation’s only fully comprehensive Interventional Pulmonology programs. You can find advanced diagnostic procedures, therapeutic treatments and pleural care in one program at Henry Ford.

To diagnose and treat pleural problems, we use a minimally invasive surgical procedure called thoracoscopy. With this technique, we can visually explore a patient’s chest and evaluate their pleura, often while they are awake. Our experts can then make a diagnosis and provide needed treatment immediately — even in the same procedure.

What is the pleura?

Imagine that your chest is a box, and your lungs are balloons in that box. The pleura is the space between the balloons and the inside of the box. It is two thin layers of tissue that line the lungs and the chest wall.

Disease can develop anywhere in or around the lungs, including the pleura. Pleural effusions (fluid inside of the pleura) can be benign (noncancerous), malignant (cancerous) or infectious. We can diagnose and treat conditions that affect the pleura in our Interventional Pulmonology Center and Bronchoscopy Suite.

Diagnosis and treatment of pleural disease

We diagnose health conditions that affect the pleura with Diagnostic Bronchoscopy and Interventional Pulmonology [link to new Diagnostic Bronchoscopy and Interventional Pulmonology page under Screenings and Diagnosis]. We use minimally invasive techniques including:

Thoracoscopy

We use a thoracoscope (a tube with a light and camera on the end) to look inside your chest (thorax). This minimally invasive procedure requires a single small incision, about 1 inch long. 

Doctors may use thoracoscopy to understand why you are having pain, trouble breathing or fluid buildup inside your chest. During thoracoscopy, your doctor can also perform some treatments. During the procedure, we can: 

  • Take tissue samples
  • Drain fluid from the lungs (thoracentesis)
  • Put medicines into the pleural space

Thoracentesis

Some conditions cause fluid to build up in the space around your lungs (pleural effusion). To relieve the effects of this fluid, your doctor may use thoracentesis. This procedure removes fluid from your chest using a needle inserted between your ribs. Thoracentesis can help doctors diagnose your condition. It can also help you breathe better.

Before performing thoracentesis, the doctor will use an ultrasound to evaluate your chest and identify the safest approach for the procedure. Thoracentesis is usually an outpatient procedure. You’ll go home after your procedure, which generally takes less than an hour.

Doctors may send the fluid they collect to a laboratory for examination. These lab studies can help to identify the cause of fluid buildup or diagnose a disease. 

Indwelling pleural catheter

Some conditions cause fluid to build up again and again. Doctors may need a long-term solution to control this fluid buildup and keep you comfortable. Sometimes, that solution is an indwelling pleural catheter (IPC). An IPC is a soft, flexible tube that remains in the pleural cavity to drain fluid.

A doctor uses an ultrasound to find the best place to insert the IPC. Usually, you’ll go home the same day. A nurse will teach you or a loved one to safely drain the IPC at home. With an IPC, you don’t have to keep returning for thoracentesis. 

Mesothelioma diagnosis

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma develops in the pleura. We may use interventional pulmonology techniques to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Henry Ford is a leader in mesothelioma care and treatment, including clinical trials to explore new treatment options. Learn more about mesothelioma.

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