Shkolnik B, et al. Chest 2020.
BACKGROUND: There are limited data examining the diagnostic accuracy of thoracic ultrasonography (TUS) in distinguishing transudative from exudative pleural effusions.
RESEARCH QUESTION: What is the diagnostic accuracy of TUS in distinguishing transudative from exudative effusions in consecutive patients with pleural effusion?
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: Consecutive patients who underwent TUS and subsequently a diagnostic thoracentesis with a pleural fluid analysis were identified. TUS images of the pleural effusions were interpreted by previously published criteria. We evaluated the diagnostic performance of TUS findings in predicting a transudative vs exudative pleural effusions and specific pleural diagnoses.
RESULTS: We evaluated 300 consecutive pleural effusions in 285 patients. The pleural effusions were classified as exudative in 229 of 300 cases (76%). TUS showed anechoic effusions in 122 of 300 cases (40%) and complex effusions in 178 of 300 cases (60%). An anechoic appearance on TUS was associated with exudative effusions (68/122; 56%) as compared with transudative effusions (54/122; 44%). The presence of a complex-appearing effusion on TUS was highly predictive of an exudative effusion (positive predictive value of 90%). However, none of the four TUS characteristics were highly specific of a pleural diagnosis.
INTERPRETATION: Thoracic ultrasonography is inadequate to diagnose a transudative pleural effusion reliably. Although the TUS findings of a complex effusion may suggest an exudative pleural effusion, specific pleural diagnoses cannot be predicted confidently.