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Pleurisy is a condition that causes chest pain. If you are looking for information related to pleurisy, the following information will prove to be a useful read.

What is Pleurisy?

Pleurisy is the inflammation of the pleura. The lungs are covered by a double layered tissue called the pleura. This tissue lines the inner side of the chest cavity and the lungs. There is no space between the inner and outer layer. There is a layer of lubricating fluid between the two tissue layers. This fluid and the smooth tissues help the lungs move freely during the course of normal breathing.

When the two layers get inflamed, it causes a space to develop between these air tight layers and the pleural cavity. The two membranes start rubbing each other, causing pain when exhaling and inhaling.This is called as pleurisy. The condition is also called as pleuritis. It results in a sharp, stabbing pain that worsens with breathing. There are many causes of pleurisy. Treatment of the cause usually helps in curing pleurisy.


The main symptom of pleurisy is sharp, stabbing pain every time you breathe in and out. The pain stops when you hold your breath. Sneezing, coughing or moving worsens the pain. Other symptoms of pleurisy include:

  • Pain on one side of the chest
  • Pain in the back or shoulders
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Shortness of breath as one tries to avoid the pain

In some cases, there is a fluid build up in the pleural space. This condition is called as pleural effusion. When a large amount of fluid fills up the space, it can compress the lung so that it partially or completely collapses. This leads to severe chest pain and coughing. The fluid may get infected and lead to a condition called empyema.

Causes of Pleurisy

There are many causes of pleurisy. The most common cause being viral infection of the lower respiratory system. Other causes include:

Diagnosis of Pleurisy

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In order to diagnose pleurisy, the doctor has to determine if inflammation or swelling is the reason for chest pain. The doctor will conduct a physical examination and carry out the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood tests to determine infection or immune system disorder
  • Thoracentesis to analyze the fluid between the two layers
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Pleural biopsy
  • Thoracoscopy to locate the inflammation and collect tissue samples for further tests


The treatment for pleurisy aims at management of the underlying cause. Once the underlying cause is treated, pleurisy will be cured on its own. The doctor may treat the underlying problem as such:

  • Prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infection
  • Use of over the counter drugs like ibuprofen that reduce inflammation
  • Medication to break up clots or pus and mucus collected, if any
  • In case of wet pleurisy, the patient may be hospitalized to drain the excessive fluid from the chest

Pleurisy is as serious as the disease causing it. Once the disease or condition is treated, pleurisy gets treated on its own. Seek medical attention is you have other symptoms along with pleurisy. If too much fluid gets accumulated, it could lead to breathing problems as well as other complications

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015

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