Pleural effusion is a commonly encountered clinical condition. We report our experience with video assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) in the management of pleural effusions in three groups of patients: (1) Patients with cryptogenic pleural effusions for diagnosis; (2) patients with established malignant effusions for talc insufflation and limited decortication; and (3) patients with early empyema for debridement and drainage. From September 1992 to March 1994, we have successfully managed 28 patients with pleural effusions (12 males, 16 females; age ranged from 22 days to 73 years). Management consisted of 16 diagnostic thoracoscopies with guided pleural biopsies, seven limited decortications for trapped lungs, 12 talc insufflation for recurrent symptomatic malignant effusions and debridement and drainage of five empyemata. There was no mortality or intra-operative complications. The procedure was tolerated well by all patients. The mean duration of chest drainage and hospital stay were 1.2 and 2.8 days for group 1 patients, 4.5 and 6.4 days for group 2, and 5.6 and 7.1 days for group 3. Specific histological diagnosis was obtained in all but two patients (88%). Thoracoscopic talc insufflation was successful in 92% of cases at mean follow up of 8 months. Thoracoscopic debridement and drainage of empyema resulted in rapid resolution of sepsis in all cases. Advances in video camera technology and instrumentation have allowed more therapeutic manoeuvres to be carried out. We conclude that VATS is a safe and effective way of managing selected patients with pleural effusions.