What is Chylothorax?

Chylothorax is a medical condition in which an accumulation of chyle, an opaque whitish fluid that contains fat, collects in the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity is the thin, delicate space between the lungs and chest wall. In most cases, the increased fluid buildup is the result of an injury or trauma to the lymphatic channels, such as a tear or rupture in the thoracic duct. It can also be caused by immune system disorders, tumors, abscesses, and infections.

Signs and Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of chylothorax include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue


To diagnose chylothorax, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and ask detailed questions about your health history. Your doctor may order diagnostic tests such as chest X-rays, blood tests, CT scans, and/or ultrasound scans to view the accumulation of fluid inside the pleural cavity and confirm the diagnosis of chylothorax.


Treatment for chylothorax depends on its underlying cause and may include one or a combination of the following treatments:

  • Dietary changes to reduce fat and cholesterol intake
  • Medication to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Surgery to repair the thoracic duct and stop the flow of chyle
  • Thoracentesis, a procedure to remove the excess fluid buildup
  • Lymphatic embolization, a procedure to block the flow of lymphatic fluid


There is no sure way to prevent chylothorax. You can reduce your risk by avoiding activities that can cause trauma to the chest and thoracic duct, such as contact sports like football or martial arts. It is also important to keep your immune system healthy to reduce the risk of infection.