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What is pleurisy?

Pleurisy occurs when the lining of the lungs become inflamed. It is usually the result of a chest infection.

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.

What are the symptoms of pleurisy?

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:

When should I see my doctor?

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.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is pleurisy diagnosed?

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 or CT scan
  • needle biopsy of the pleural fluid
  • bronchoscopy (use of a thin tube via the throat to look at the airways)

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How is pleurisy treated?

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.

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Last reviewed: February 2019

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