Pleural effusion (PLEFF), mostly caused by volume overload, congestive heart failure, and pleuropulmonary infection, is a common condition in critical care patients. Thoracic ultrasound (TUS) helps clinicians not only to visualize pleural effusion, but also to distinguish between the different types. Furthermore, TUS is essential during thoracentesis and chest tube drainage as it increases safety and decreases life-threatening complications. It is crucial not only during needle or tube drainage insertion, but also to monitor the volume of the drained PLEFF. Moreover, TUS can help diagnose co-existing lung diseases, often with a higher specificity and sensitivity than chest radiography and without the need for X-ray exposure. We review data regarding the diagnosis and management of pleural effusion, paying particular attention to the impact of ultrasound. Technical data concerning thoracentesis and chest tube drainage are also provided.
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