What is the definition of Empyema?

Empyema is a collection of pus in the space between the lung and the inner surface of the chest wall (pleural space).


What are the alternative names for Empyema?

Empyema - pleural; Pyothorax; Pleurisy - purulent

What are the causes for Empyema?

Empyema is usually caused by an infection that spreads from the lung. It leads to a buildup of pus in the pleural space.

There can be 2 cups (1/2 liter) or more of infected fluid. This fluid puts pressure on the lungs.

Risk factors include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Chest surgery
  • Lung abscess
  • Trauma or injury to the chest

In rare cases, empyema can occur after thoracentesis. This is a procedure in which a needle is inserted through the chest wall to remove fluid in the pleural space for medical diagnosis or treatment.

What are the symptoms for Empyema?

Symptoms of empyema may include any of the following:

  • Chest pain, which worsens when you breathe in deeply (pleurisy)
  • Dry cough
  • Excessive sweating, especially night sweats
  • Fever and chills
  • General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling (malaise)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss (unintentional)

What are the current treatments for Empyema?

The goal of treatment is to cure the infection. This involves the following:

  • Placing a tube in your chest to drain the pus
  • Giving you antibiotics to control the infection

If you have problems breathing, you may need surgery to help your lung expand properly.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Empyema?

When empyema complicates pneumonia, the risk for permanent lung damage and death goes up. Long-term treatment with antibiotics and drainage are needed.

In general, most people fully recover from empyema.

What are the possible complications for Empyema?

Having empyema may lead to the following:

  • Pleural thickening
  • Reduced lung function

When should I contact a medical professional for Empyema?

Call your provider if you develop symptoms of empyema.

How do I prevent Empyema?

Prompt and effective treatment of lung infections may prevent some cases of empyema.

Chest tube insertion - series - Pleural cavity


Broaddus VC, Light RW. Pleural effusion. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 79.

McCool FD. Diseases of the diaphragm, chest wall, pleura, and mediastinum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 92.

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Radiation, Drug, Procedure, Other, Behavioral
  • Participants: 30
  • Start Date: April 1, 2019
Management of Pleural Space Infections
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Procedure
  • Participants: 100
  • Start Date: June 30, 2020
The Clinical Study of Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy With the Preservation of the Main Cystic Artery