Pleural effusion causes

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


The most common causes of transudative pleural effusions in the United States are left ventricular failure, pulmonary embolism, and cirrhosis (causing hepatic hydrothorax), while the most common causes of exudative pleural effusions are bacterial pneumonia, cancer (with lung cancer, breast cancer, and lymphoma causing approximately 75% of all malignant pleural effusions), viral infection, and pulmonary embolism. Although pulmonary embolism can produce either transudative or exudative pleural effusions, the latter is more common.


Common Causes

The most common causes of transudative pleural effusions in the United States are:

The most common causes of exudative pleural effusions are:

Other causes of pleural effusion include, tuberculosis (though pleural fluid smears are rarely positive for AFB, this is the most common cause of pleural effusion in some developing countries), autoimmune disease such as systemic lupus erythematosus, bleeding (often due to chest trauma), chylothorax (most commonly caused by trauma), and accidental infusion of fluids. Less common causes include, esophageal rupture or pancreatic disease, intraabdominal abscess, rheumatoid arthritis, asbestos pleural effusion, Meig's syndrome (ascites and pleural effusion due to a benign ovarian tumor), and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.

Pleural effusions may also occur through medical/surgical interventions, including the use of medications (pleural fluid is usually eosinophilic), coronary artery bypass surgery, abdominal surgery, endoscopic variceal sclerotherapy, radiation therapy, liver or lung transplantation, and intra-or extravascular insertion of central lines.

Commonly asymptomatic patients presenting with a pleural effusion
Typically symptomatic patients presenting with a pleural effusion

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular Central venous stenosis, congestive heart failure, constrictive pericarditis, Dressler's syndrome, pulmonary embolus, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary infarction, restrictive cardiomyopathy, superior vena cava syndrome, Uhl anomaly, Wegener's granulomatosis, Churg-Strauss syndrome
Chemical / poisoning No underlying causes
Dermatologic Jaffe-Campanacci syndrome, yellow nail syndrome
Drug Side Effect Bromocriptine, Bosutinib, cabergoline, dasatinib, everolimus, ethanolamine oleate, Hydroxocobalamin, lisuride, Meropenem, Oprelvekin, pergolide, Pertuzumab, piribedil, pramipexole, ropinirole, Sargramostim, minoxidil, sirolimus
Ear Nose Throat No underlying causes
Endocrine Myxedema
Environmental No underlying causes
Gastroenterologic Cirrhosis of liver, esophageal perforation, hepatic failure, pancreatitis, protein losing enteropathy, Whipple's disease, abdominal abscess
Genetic No underlying causes
Hematologic Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, EBV associated lymphoproliferative syndrome, lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, lymphangiomyomatosis
Iatrogenic Abdominal surgery, CABG, central venous catheter, endoscopic variceal sclerotherapy, liver transplantation, lung transplantation, post open heart surgery, radiotherapy
Infectious Disease Abdominal abscess, actinomycosis, anthrax, asbestosis, aspergillosis, atypical mycobacteria, blastomycosis, coccidioidomycosis, empyema, Francisella tularensis , hydatid disease, paragonimiasis, pneumonia, scrub typhus, subphrenic abscess, tuberculosis, Whipple's disease
Musculoskeletal / Ortho Diaphragmatic hernia, Gorham's disease, Rheumatoid arthritis
Neurologic Jaffe-Campanacci syndrome, Neurofibromatosis
Nutritional / Metabolic Malnutrition
Obstetric/Gynecologic Fetal indomethacin syndrome,[2] ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
Oncologic Adenocarcinoma of lung, breast cancer, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, EBV associated lymphoproliferative syndrome, Kaposi sarcoma, lung cancer, lymphoma, malignancy, Meigs' syndrome, mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, neurofibromatosis, bronchial neoplasm, bronchogenic carcinoma, lung cancer
Opthalmologic No underlying causes
Overdose / Toxicity No underlying causes
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary bronchial neoplasm, bronchogenic carcinoma, chylothorax, extensive atelectasis, extramedullary haemopoiesis, haemothorax, lung cancer, lupus pleuritis, lymphangiomyomatosis, pleurisy, pleuritis, pulmonary edema, recurrent polyserositis, urinothorax, yellow nail syndrome , empyema, pneumonia, tuberculosis, Adenocarcinoma of lung, Lung cancer, Meigs' syndrome, Mesothelioma, Jaffe-Campanacci syndrome
Renal / Electrolyte Chronic renal failure, nephrotic syndrome
Rheum / Immune / Allergy Churg-Strauss syndrome, sarcoidosis, Sjogren's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, Dressler's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus pleuritis
Sexual Jaffe-Campanacci syndrome
Trauma Chest trauma
Urologic No underlying causes
Dental No underlying causes
Miscellaneous Hypoproteinemia, radiation

Causes in Alphabetical Order


  1. Light, Richard J. (2007). Pleural diseases. Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 0-7817-6957-4. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Murray HG, Stone PR, Strand L, Flower J (1993). "Fetal pleural effusion following maternal indomethacin therapy.". Br J Obstet Gynaecol 100 (3): 277-9. PMID 8476835.
  3. Bartlett RP, Greipp PR, Tefferi A, Cupps RE, Mullan BP, Trastek VF (1995). "Extramedullary hematopoiesis manifesting as a symptomatic pleural effusion.". Mayo Clin Proc 70 (12): 1161-4. doi:10.1016/S0025-6196(11)63442-3. PMID 7490917.