BACKGROUND: Tuberculous pleural effusions (TBEs) and parapneumonic pleural effusion (PPEs) have similar clinical presentations and fluid biochemistry. A pleural biopsy is usually required to diagnose TBE but complete fluid evacuation may not be necessary, contrasting with complicated PPE (CPPE). A point-of-care test that distinguishes between TBE and CPPE enables the appropriate procedures to be performed during the initial diagnostic thoracentesis. Lactate is a metabolic product measurable by a blood-gas analyzer. This study measured pleural fluid (Pf) lactate levels in TBE and compared them with those in PPE/CPPE. We hypothesized that Pf lactate would be significantly higher in PPE because of active metabolic activities than in TBE which is driven by delayed hypersensitivity.
METHODS: All patients undergoing an initial diagnostic thoracentesis over 18 months with Pf lactate measured using a calibrated point-of-care blood gas analyzer were assessed.
RESULTS: The diagnoses of the enrolled patients (n = 170) included TBE (n = 49), PPE (n = 47), malignancy (n = 63), and transudate (n = 11). Pf lactate level in TBE, median 3.70 (inter-quartile range 2.65-4.90) mmol/l, was significantly lower than in PPE and CPPE. In the subgroup of TBE and CPPE patients whose initial Pf pH and glucose could suggest either condition, Pf lactate was significantly higher in those with CPPE. Pf lactate (cutoff ≥7.25 mmol/l) had a sensitivity of 79.3%, specificity 100%, positive predictive value 100%, and negative predictive value 89.1% for discriminating CPPE from TBE (area under the curve 0.947, p < 0.001, 95% confidence interval 0.89-0.99).
CONCLUSIONS: Point-of-care Pf lactate measurements may have practical value in early separation of TBE or CPPE during initial thoracentesis, and warrants further investigation.