If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is pleurisy?
Pleurisy is a medical condition. It affects the lining of your lungs and chest. The lining can become inflamed or irritated. This happens when excessive fluid collects in the “pleural space.” Typically, there is a small amount of fluid in the space. This is normal. The condition causes chest pain.
Symptoms of pleurisy
The main symptom is chest pain. It can be sharp and sudden. It is painful to cough or take a deep breath. Ongoing chest pain is common. Shortness of breath is common too. You might develop a fever or other aches. More symptoms depend on the cause of pleurisy.
What causes pleurisy?
Pleurisy is often caused by an infection. The infection could be viral (flu). It could be bacterial (pneumonia or tuberculosis). Other causes include:
- Asbestos-related disease (from home or work exposure)
- Certain cancers (lung, lymphoma, and mesothelioma)
- Chest trauma
- A blood clot that travels to the lung
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Lupus (an autoimmune disorder)
How is pleurisy diagnosed?
Contact your healthcare provider if you have pleurisy symptoms. Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam. They will ask you questions about your medical history. Your healthcare provider will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. They can hear the lining rubbing together. Based on these results, your healthcare provider can order several tests. These could include:
- Blood test. An infection may show up in your blood. The test also can detect autoimmune disorders. This includes rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Pleurisy could be a symptom of both conditions.
- X-ray. Your healthcare provider can use an X-ray to get a picture of your chest. This will show if there is something in the space between the lining. There may be air or gas in the area. That condition is called a pneumothorax. Lung disease or a lung injury can cause this condition.
- Your healthcare provider may use sound waves to get a picture of your chest. The view may detect a pleural effusion. You can get this when fluid builds up in the pleural space.
- Computerized tomography (CT).This checks for other causes of pleurisy. A chest CT may find a blood clot in the lung. This condition is called a pulmonary embolism. It also could find hemothorax. This occurs when blood gets in the pleural space. It can be caused by a chest injury, chest surgery, or lung cancer.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).This test will help your healthcare provider rule out heart problems or defects.
- Fluid removal. Your healthcare provider will apply a numbing medicine to the skin around your chest muscles. They will insert a small needle into that area to collect fluid. That sample will be sent to a lab.
Can pleurisy be prevented or avoided?
Treating a bacterial infection (early) may prevent pleurisy. It is more difficult to treat a viral infection. Finding and treating other causes of pleurisy may help.
Pleurisy treatment depends on the underlying cause. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic for a bacterial infection. They may prescribe an anti-viral medicine if you have a viral infection. For most viral infections, the infection will have to run its course. If your pleurisy is caused by something else, your healthcare provider will treat that cause. You can ease symptoms with over-the-counter medicine. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can reduce pain and inflammation. Cough syrup can control excessive coughing. However, don’t stop coughing. This can cause pneumonia. Rest (lying on your painful side) can help. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove fluid buildup.
Living with pleurisy
Discomfort is the main factor in living with pleurisy. You will have ongoing pain until the infection goes away or another cause is treated. Try to slow down and take it easy while you have pleurisy. Don’t do any activity that will cause rapid breathing or excessive coughing.