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Am J Case Rep. 2013;14:63-6. doi: 10.12659/AJCR.883816. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

Multiloculated pleural effusion detected by ultrasound only in a critically-ill patient.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, MO, U.S.A.



Multiloculated pleural effusion is a life-threatening condition that needs early recognition. Drainage by chest tube might be difficult which necessitates a surgical intervention. While x-ray typically does not show loculations, CT scan might not also identify the loculations. Ultrasound has a high sensitivity in detecting pleural diseases including multiloculated pleural effusion.


A 55-year-old female presented with dyspnea, cough and yellowish sputum for 3 days. Her heart rate was 136 bpm ,O2 saturation 88%, and WBC 21,000/mcL. Chest x-ray showed complete opacification of right lung. A chest tube insertion was unsuccessful. CT scan of the chest showed large pleural effusion occupying the right hemithorax with collapse of the right lung. Bedside ultra-sound showed a multiloculated pleural effusion with septations of different thickness. The patient subsequently underwent thoracotomy which showed multiple, fluid-filled loculations with significant adhesions. The loculations were dissected along with decortications of thick a pleural rind. Blood and pleural fluid cultures grew Streptococcus pneumoniae and the patient was treated successfully with Penicillin G.


We advocate bedside ultrasound in patients with complete or near complete opacification of a hemithorax on chest x-ray. CT scan is less likely to show septations within pleural effusions compared to ultrasounnd. Therefore, CT scan and ultrasound are complementary for the diagnosis of empyema and multiloculated pleural effusion.


chest tubes; empyema; pleural effusion; thoracotomy; ultrasonography

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