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Clin Radiol. 2006 Jun;61(6):513-9.

Prevalence and clinical significance of pleural microbubbles in computed tomography of thoracic empyema.

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Radiology Institute, Soroka University Medical Center and Faculty for Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel.



To determine the prevalence and clinical significance of pleural microbubbles in thoracic empyema.


The charts of 71 consecutive patients with empyema were retrospectively reviewed for relevant demographic, laboratory, microbiological, therapeutic and outcome data. Computed tomography (CT) images were reviewed for various signs of empyema as well as pleural microbubbles. Two patient groups, with and without microbubbles were compared.


Mean patient age was 49 years and 72% were males. Microbubbles were detected in 58% of patients. There were no significant differences between patients with and without microbubbles in regard to pleural fluid chemistry. A causative organism was identified in about 75% of cases in both. There was no difference in the rates of pleural thickening and enhancement, increased extra-pleural fat attenuation, air-fluid levels or loculations. Microbubbles were diagnosed after a mean of 7.8 days from admission. Thoracentesis before CT was performed in 90 and 57% of patients with and without microbubbles (p=0.0015), respectively. Patients with microbubbles were more likely to require repeated drainage (65.9 versus 36.7%, p=0.015) and surgical decortication (31.7 versus 6.7%, p=0.011). Mortalities were 9.8 and 6.6% respectively (p=0.53).


Pleural microbubbles are commonly encountered in CT imaging of empyema but have not been systematically studied to date. Microbubbles may be associated with adverse outcome such as repeated drainage or surgical decortication. The sensitivity and specificity of this finding and its prognostic implications need further assessment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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