The University of Louisville Journal of Respiratory Infections


The author(s) received no specific funding for this work


Hepatic hydrothorax (HH) is a complication of decompensated liver cirrhosis that only occurs in about 5–6% of cirrhosis patients, defined as a pleural fluid in the setting of known liver disease, with the absence of any other cardiopulmonary etiology. Infected HH is a rare complication, designated as spontaneous bacterial empyema (SBEM), found in only 13–16% of patients with HH. This case follows a patient with SBEM who developed a recurrent pleural effusion minutes after thoracentesis. Our patient is a 56-year-old female with a history of alcoholic cirrhosis with pleuritic pain found to have right-sided pleural effusion with decompensation. She had no ascites. She was initiated on antibiotics due to leukocytosis and underwent thoracentesis, revealing a sterile but exudative pleural effusion with high neutrophil count, confirming the diagnosis of SBEM. Despite initial symptom relief, her respiratory symptoms recurred within mere minutes of thoracentesis. Imaging showed reaccumulated right-sided effusion, and repeat thoracentesis showed a transudative effusion, suggesting HH. While she was in our care, we pursued expert consultation with gastroenterology and thoracic surgery; based on our shared clinical decision making, we agreed that definitive intervention with either indwelling catheter or intrapleural surgical options would cause more harm than good to our patient given her decompensated alcoholic cirrhosis. The patient was discharged with instructions for serial thoracentesis and close follow-up with gastroenterology to discuss next steps regarding her advanced and uncontrolled cirrhosis. We refer to this case to discuss HH and its rare complication of SBEM, as well as the management options for patients with these conditions.





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Figure 1 HH-SBEM.docx (972 kB)
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Figure 2 HH-SBEM.docx (1166 kB)
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Figure 3 HH-SBEM.docx (1205 kB)
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Table 1 HH-SBEM.docx (13 kB)
Table 1

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