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.
Symptoms can vary in severity and include:
- chest pain that may worsen with deep breathing and coughing
- shortness of breath
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 can also be caused by:
- rheumatoid diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- 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 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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Last reviewed: February 2019