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Patients with an unexplained pleural effusion often require urgent investigation. Clinical practice varies due to uncertainty as to whether an effusion should be drained completely before diagnostic imaging. We performed a retrospective study of patients undergoing medical thoracoscopy for an unexplained effusion. In 110 patients with paired (pre- and post-drainage) chest X-rays and 32 patients with paired computed tomography scans, post-drainage imaging did not provide additional information that would have influenced the clinical decision-making process.