Pleural Interventions in the Management of Hepatic Hydrothorax

Christopher R. Gilbert, Samira Shojaee, Fabien Maldonado, Lonny B. Yarmus, Eihab Bedawi, David Feller-Kopman, Najib M. Rahman, Jason A. Akulian, Jed A. Gorden

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Hepatic hydrothorax can be present in 5% to 15% of patients with underlying cirrhosis and portal hypertension, often reflecting advanced liver disease. Its impact can be variable, because patients may have small pleural effusions and minimal pulmonary symptoms or massive pleural effusions and respiratory failure. Management of hepatic hydrothorax can be difficult because these patients often have a number of comorbidities and potential for complications. Minimal high-quality data are available for guidance specifically related to hepatic hydrothorax, potentially resulting in pulmonary or critical care physician struggling for best management options. We therefore provide a Case-based presentation with management options based on currently available data and opinion. We discuss the role of pleural interventions, including thoracentesis, tube thoracostomy, indwelling tunneled pleural catheter, pleurodesis, and surgical interventions. In general, we recommend that management be conducted within a multidisciplinary team including pulmonology, hepatology, and transplant surgery. Patients with refractory hepatic hydrothorax that are not transplant candidates should be managed with palliative intent; we suggest indwelling tunneled pleural catheter placement unless otherwise contraindicated. For patients with unclear or incomplete hepatology treatment plans or those unable to undergo more definitive procedures, we recommend serial thoracentesis. In patients who are transplant candidates, we often consider serial thoracentesis as a standard treatment, while also evaluating the role indwelling tunneled pleural catheter placement may play within the course of disease and transplant evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)276-283
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • hepatic hydrothorax
  • indwelling tunneled pleural catheter
  • pleurodesis
  • thoracentesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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