Fetal Pleural Effusion: Diagnosis & Treatment 

Pleural effusion, also known as fetal hydrothorax, or water on the lungs, is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity. If the fluid increases, the effusion can compress other structures in the chest, resulting in poor development of the lungs or heart failure. Causes of pleural effusion may include chromosome abnormalities, heart failure, infection, lung problems, or abnormal lymph drainage. Many times however, the cause is unknown.

If your baby has been diagnosed with this condition, you can rely on the experts at the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute to monitor you and your child’s health throughout your pregnancy, providing the best possible treatment. Our team works collaboratively with experts across our network to provide infants complete, timely care. This includes access to our NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), where we assist babies with their breathing, and long-term follow-up care as their lungs continue to heal and develop.

How Is a Pleural Effusion Diagnosed?

Pleural effusions are typically detected during a routine prenatal ultrasound, where the abnormal fluid collection can be seen in a baby’s chest. From here, our team is able to monitor and evaluate the severity of the fluid collection to determine if your baby is in any danger. In addition to regular ultrasounds, we also perform an echocardiogram, an ultrasound to understand how your child’s heart is functioning. We may also attain a sample of your amniotic fluid (amniocentesis) to look for any chromosomal abnormalities.

How is a Pleural Effusion Treated?

Most cases of pleural effusion do not require fetal treatment, and in some situations, the fluid may spontaneously disappear.

However if the fluid accumulation becomes severe and begins to interfere with your baby’s heart or lung development, fetal intervention may become necessary. In this case, the fluid can be drained with a small needle or a shunt.

Even with fetal intervention, you will typically be able to deliver your child vaginally. At the Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute, you can rest assured that your baby will be delivered in a hospital that is prepared to handle your needs, as well as provide advanced fetal surgery if needed. Our NICU is specifically equipped to assist your child’s breathing and respond to complex medical situations after birth.

What Can I Expect if My Baby is Born with a Pleural Effusion?

Immediately after delivery, our doctors will evaluate your baby and begin treatment as necessary to drain the excess fluid. Your baby will be stabilized in the NICU to fully assess their heart and lung function. A sample of fluid will also be obtained to help determine the cause of the pleural effusion.

Most cases of this condition are mild and children continue to grow with normal lung function. In other cases, more extensive surgical treatments may be required to repair the underlying cause or to repair damage to the lungs.

Our team at the Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute is uniquely equipped to manage your child’s medical situation and develop a complete care plan before, during, and after your child is born.

While we can’t change the diagnosis, we can provide you expert care and support, helping your child get the most out of treatment and life. If you’re facing a diagnosis, schedule an appointment with us at the Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute. You may call our team directly at 314-268-4037 or speak with your doctor about the potential of a referral.

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