Question 13.3

List 4 clinical signs typically found on chest examination  that will fit with the findings on this chest X-Ray?

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College Answer


Decreased chest expansion

Dull percussion note on R

Decreased VR

Absent breath sounds R. base / Whispering pectoriloquy above level of effusion

Apical impulse shift to left


To the college answer, I would add that the percussion note will be "stony" dull, and that the "decreased chest expansion" they mention will be unilateral. As for the apex shifting to the left - I can see no evidence of that from the chest Xray; and yes that really is the CXR from the original paper (back when the college did not realise that it would be easier to just re-use the same pictures in every paper). One additional thing to consider is the sounds from the collapsed lung overlying the effusion: if the college expected to get whispering pectoriloquy, then bronchial breath sounds and creps would also be expected on auscultation there.

An excellent article from a bygone era when people actually listened to lungs (Sahebjami & Loudon, 1977) lists several characteristics. This was remixed with the college answer to give what is hopefully a more comprehensive list of clinical features

  • "A heavy or tight feeling" in the chest
  • "a gurgling sensation on changing posture"
  • Shortness of breath, tachypnoea
  • Pain (though this usually preceeds the effusion) - referred to the shoulder
  • Cough
  • "Stony" dullness to percussion
  • Absence of breath sounds
  • Absence of vocal fremitus (perhaps this is what the college referred to when they included "decreased VR" in their answer?)
  • Decreased chest expansion on the affected side
  • Bronchial breath sounds and creps above level of effusion
  • Whispering pectoriloquy above level of effusion
  • Features of mediastinal shift: displaced apex beat, trachea off midline


Sahebjami, Hamid, and Robert G. Loudon. "Pleural effusion: Pathophysiology and clinical features." Seminars in roentgenology. Vol. 12. No. 4. Elsevier, 1977.