What is Centesis?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

People may be familiar with terms like amniocentesis, where a small amount of fluid is drawn from the womb of a pregnant woman in order to test for potential birth defects and to diagnose health of a pregnancy. The second part of the word, centesis, has much broader range in medicine. There are a number of instances where fluid removal via a needle that moves into a body cavity or space, is used in some form. It may be a method for removing too much fluid or for looking at the fluid to obtain a diagnosis, and sometimes the varying types of this procedure serve a dual purpose.

Anatomical model of the human body
Anatomical model of the human body

Centesis in most of its forms could not be done now were it not for the hollow needle. This allows for fluid to be drawn back into the reservoir or collection area. Modern use of any type of fluid collection via needle owes a debt to Irish doctor and inventor Francis Rynd, though Rynd’s intent in the needle’s design was to inject rather than to remove fluid. With this invention, though, the ease at which fluid could be extracted without cutting into the body began to be explored by a number of physicians. The first hollow needle fluid removal from lungs or thoracentesis was performed prior to the 19th century ending.

Today there are many types of centesis performed. Along with thoracentesis, which can drain fluid from lungs or pull some out to test for infection, pericardial centesis, an extremely delicate procedure, may remove fluid from the space between pericardium and heart. This often effectively treats effusions in the heart that may be caused by infection or bruising.

Sometimes spaces in the body may be filled with fluid that indicates infection. Diseases like spinal meningitis run this risk, and should meningitis be suspected, a doctor may perform a spinal tap. This removes a small amount of spinal fluid, which can be evaluated by appearance and lab tested for evidence of infection. Joints may become infected too, sometimes a sample of fluid taken from one could confirm infection, while also alleviating discomfort in the joint.

Centesis may be treatment instead of diagnosis, as is the case with thoracentesis and pericardial taps. If a person has ascites or build up of fluid in the abdomen, removing that fluid can be highly useful to reduce discomfort. Other examples certainly exist.

Though the benefits of this procedure in many of its forms are undeniable, this is still delicate and potentially risky medicine. Amniocenteses can go wrong, with a needle injuring a fetus. Injecting a needle into the spine, heart or lungs cannot be viewed as simple and without risk. The majority of medical personnel feel that these risks are often greatly outweighed by benefit of procedure and remain low in comparison to failing to treat urgent, life-threatening, or painful medical conditions.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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