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Coll Antropol. 2007 Dec;31(4):1195-9.

Diagnostic imaging of small amounts of pleural fluid: pleural effusion vs. physiologic pleural fluid.

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Clinical Institute of Radiology, University Medical Centre, Ljubljana, Slovenia.


The aim of this article is to present an overview of our 10 years clinical research work and early clinical experience with small pleural effusions. Small amounts of pleural fluid are severely difficult to identify with imaging methods (chest x-rays and ultrasound). Nevertheless, it may be an important finding, sometimes leading to a definitive diagnosis of pleural carcinomatosis, infection or other pathologic condition. Chest x-rays were used for many years for the diagnosis of small pleural effusions. Lateral decubitus chest radiographs represented a gold standard for imaging of small amounts of plural fluid for more than 80 years. In the last two decades, ultrasonography of pleural space became a leading real-time method for demonstrating small pleural effusions. Furthermore, the advent of sonographic technology actually enables detection of physiologic pleural fluid in some otherwise healthy individuals. In conclusion, new definitions of the key terms in the field of diagnostic imaging of small amounts of pleural fluid seem to be justified. We suggest that the term pleural fluid should determine physiologic pleural space condition while the term pleural effusion should only be used in the cases of pleural involvement or pleural illness.

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