Tuberc Respir Dis.  2008 Jun;64(6):439-444.

Diagnostic Approach to a Patient with a Pleural Effusion Including Ultrasound-guided Paracentesis Performed by a Medical Resident

  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, National Police Hospital, Seoul, Korea.
  • 2Department of Radiology, National Police Hospital, Seoul, Korea.


A patient with a pleural effusion that is difficult to safely drain by a "blind" thoracentesis procedure is generally referred to a radiologist for ultrasound-guided thoracentesis. But such a referral increases the cost and the patient's inconvenience, and it causes delay in the diagnostic procedures. If ultrasound-guided thoracentesis is performed as a bedside procedure by a medical resident, then this will reduce the previously mentioned problems. So these patients with pleural effusions were treated by medical residents at our medical center, and the procedures included bedside ultrasound-guided thoracenteses.
We studied 89 cases of pleural effusions from March 2003 to June 2005. A "blind" thoracentesis was performed if the amount of pleural effusion was moderate or large. Bedside ultrasound-guided thoracentesis was performed for small or loculated effusions or for the cases that failed with performing a "blind" thoracentesis.
"Blind" thoracenteses were performed in 79 cases that had a moderate or large amount of uncomplicated pleural effusions and the success rate was 93.7% (74/79 cases). Ultrasound-guided thoracentesis by the medical residents was performed in 15 cases and the success rate was 66.7% (10/15 cases). The 5 failedcases included all 3 cases with loculated effusions and 2 cases with a small amount of pleural effusion. All the failed cases were referred to one radiologist and they were then successfully treated. If we exclude the 3 cases with loculated pleural effusions, the success rate of ultrasound-guided thoracentesis by the medical residents increased up to 83% (10/12 cases). Two cases of complications (1 pneumothorax, 1 hydrohemothorax) occurred during ultrasound-guided thoracentesis.
Ultrasound-guided thoracentesis performed as a bedside procedure by a medical resident may be relatively effective and safe. If a patient has a loculated effusion, then it would be better to first refer the patient to a radiologist.


Ultrasound; Thoracentesis; Pleural effusion; Medical residency

MeSH Terms

Internship and Residency
Pleural Effusion
Referral and Consultation
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