In this condition, the tissues that line the lungs and chest cavity (pleura) become inflamed, causing sharp chest pain that worsens during breathing.
Pleurisy (PLOOR-ih-see) is a condition in which the pleura — two large, thin layers of tissue that separate your lungs from your chest wall — becomes inflamed. Also called pleuritis, pleurisy causes sharp chest pain (pleuritic pain) that worsens during breathing.
One pleural layer of tissue wraps around the outside of the lungs. The other pleural layer lines the inner chest wall. Between these two layers is a small space (pleural space) that's usually filled with a very small amount of liquid. These layers act like two pieces of smooth satin gliding past each other, allowing your lungs to expand and contract when you breathe.
If you have pleurisy, these tissues swell and become inflamed. As a result, the two layers of the pleural lining rub against each other like two pieces of sandpaper. This causes pain when you breathe in and out. The pleuritic pain lessens or stops when you hold your breath.
Treatment of pleurisy involves pain control and treating the cause.
Pleurisy occurs when the pleural lining — two large, thin layers of tissue that separate your lungs from your chest wall — becomes inflamed, causing chest pain.
Signs and symptoms of pleurisy might include:
Pain caused by pleurisy might worsen with movement of your upper body and can spread to your shoulders or back.
Pleurisy can occur along with pleural effusion, atelectasis or empyema:
Call your health care provider or seek emergency care right away if you experience unexplained, intense chest pain during breathing. You might have a problem with your lungs, heart or pleura or an underlying illness for which you need prompt medical care.
A variety of conditions can cause pleurisy. Causes include:
Your health care provider will likely start by asking about your medical history and doing a physical exam that includes listening to your chest with a stethoscope.
To determine if you have pleurisy and identify the cause, your health care provider might recommend:
In some cases, your health care provider might remove fluid and tissue from the pleural space for testing. Procedures might include:
Treatment for pleurisy focuses primarily on the underlying cause. For example, if bacterial pneumonia is the cause, an antibiotic can be prescribed to manage the infection. If the cause is a viral infection, pleurisy may go away on its own.
The pain and inflammation associated with pleurisy is usually treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others). Occasionally, your health care provider may prescribe steroid medication.
The outcome of pleurisy treatment depends on the seriousness of the underlying cause. Early diagnosis and treatment of the condition that caused pleurisy can help you feel better. Depending on the cause and the condition, you may make a full recovery.
These steps might help relieve symptoms related to pleurisy:
You're likely to start by seeing your primary health care provider. However, when you call to set up your appointment, you might be urged to seek immediate medical care if you're having severe, unexplained chest pain.
You may want to bring a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember questions to ask and what your health care provider said.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your health care provider.
Prepare a list that includes:
Questions to ask may include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Be ready to answer questions your health care provider might ask, such as:
Your health care provider will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your appointment time.