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Pleural effusion may have no symptoms at first, or the symptoms may be so mild that a person ignores them. Symptoms can also vary depending on the amount of fluid and how fast it builds up.

The most common symptoms of pleural effusion are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Breathing that is difficult or painful
  • Sudden, sharp chest pain
  • Chest tightness or a feeling of heaviness in the chest
  • Unexplained cough 
  • Fatigue

Deep breathing often increases the pain, and shortness of breath may get worse when you lie down.