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Pleurisy

Pleurisy occurs when the lining of the lungs become inflamed, most often due to a recent respiratory tract infection.

This often results in sharp chest pain that is worse with deep breathing or coughing. Pleurisy can get better by itself, but often medical treatment is needed.

What is pleurisy?

In the chest, the lungs sit within the chest wall. Both the lungs and the chest wall are covered with a lining (pleura). These linings are lubricated so that the lungs and chest wall can move easily during breathing. 

Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura, which causes these linings to become rough and rub against each other. Pleurisy is usually the result of a chest infection.

Pleurisy symptoms

Symptoms can vary in severity and include :

Some people also get a pleural effusion, which is when the inflammation causes a large build-up of fluid between the linings of the lung and chest wall. 

This can help relieve the symptoms of pleurisy because the linings no longer rub against each other. However, it can also cause compression of the lungs, leading to breathing problems.

What causes pleurisy?

Pleurisy is usually caused by a chest infection - either a viral infection (such as influenza) or a bacterial infection (such as pneumonia).

Pleurisy can also be caused by:

  • rheumatoid diseases
  • a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolus)
  • lung cancer.

Pleurisy diagnosis and treatment

If you think you may have pleurisy, visit your doctor. If your symptoms are severe or you are worried, go to a hospital emergency department.

Your doctor will assess you by talking to you and examining you.

Your doctor may also order some tests, including:

  • blood tests
  • imaging of the chest, which may include an x-ray, CT scan
  • needle biopsy of the pleural fluid
  • bronchoscopy (use of a thin tube via the throat to look at the airways).

Treatment depends on the cause, and may include painkillers and antibiotics. If you have a pleural effusion that is interfering with your breathing, it may need to be drained.

Last reviewed: March 2017

Need more information?

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Treating any infection of the upper respiratory tract quickly will reduce the risk of developing pleurisy.

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Each lung is wrapped in a thin membrane called the visceral pleura. The chest wall is similarly lined (parietal pleura). These two membranes touch and slide across each other while we breathe, lubricated by a slick of fluid.

Read more on Lung Foundation Australia website

Pleurisy: what you need to know - myDr.com.au

Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura, the 2-layer protective membrane around the lungs. Chest pain is the most common symptom.

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Pleural fluid analysis - Lab Tests Online AU

To help diagnose the cause of inflammation of pleurae (pleuritis, pleurisy), accumulation of fluid in the pleural space (pleural effusion), or possible malignancy

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

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