Causes, symptoms and treatment of pleurisy

 Causes, symptoms and treatment of pleurisy

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the tissue layers lining the lungs and inner chest wall. It is often associated with the accumulation of excess fluid in the space between the two layers of pleura. This fluid is called a pleural effusion. The severity of pleurisy can range from mild to deadly. It is often caused by infection with a germ.

Pleurisy, or other problems which affect the pleura, can cause ‘pleuritic’ chest pain. Usually, this is a sharp stabbing pain which can be severe but soon goes.

However, you may feel pain anywhere in the chest depending on the site of the inflammation, or problem with the pleura. Also, the pleuritic chest pain is made worse by breathing in or coughing. As this causes the parts of the inflamed pleura to rub over each other.

Signs and symptoms

Its main symptom is a sharp, stabbing pain, or constant severe pain in the chest. The pain may be on one or both sides of the chest, the back, and the shoulders. Often, it will get worse with the motion of breathing. In addition, other signs and symptoms of pleurisy include;

  • shortness of breath, or rapid, shallow breathing and coughing
  • unexplained weight loss
  • rapid heartbeat

Moreover, pleurisy is often caused by a viral infection. In these cases, signs may also comprise;

  • a sore throat
  • fever
  • chills
  • headaches
  • joint pain
  • muscle aches

Causes of pleurisy

Causes of pleurisy include;

  • Viral infection; the most common cause of pleurisy is a viral infection. Generally, the pain lasts a few days and goes as the virus clears away and the swelling settles.
  • Bacterial infection; commonly bacterial pneumonia.
  • Fungal infection; such infections are more common in people with a weakened immune system.
  • Blood clots in the lung (pulmonary embolism).
  • Chest injuries.
  • A collapsed lung (pneumothorax).
  • Lung cancer.
  • Inflammation associated with some forms of arthritis.

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In case, the inflammation of pleura is caused by a more serious cause you are likely to have other signs and symptoms. Thus, consult a doctor if any of the following occur with pleuritic chest pain;

  • Pain develops gradually over several days or weeks.
  • Pain which does not go after a few days.
  • Breathlessness or other breathing difficulties.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Any other symptom which you are unsure of, or cannot explain.


Treatment of pleurisy focuses on resolving the cause which can be a virus or other infections. Thus, when your doctor identifies the source of infection, they will be able to determine the correct treatment.

However, antibiotics are prescribed if the inflammation is due to a bacterial infection.

Sometimes, a person may need to have fluid drained from the pleural cavity through a tube inserted into the chest. Therefore, pain can be managed with ibuprofen, aspirin, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In more severe cases, prescription pain and cough medicines may be suggested, counting codeine-based cough syrups.

The person with pleurisy may be placed on blood thinners in case of a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in the blood vessel that runs from the heart to the lungs.

Moreover, if the cause is related to an autoimmune disorder, then a rheumatologist will treat the condition with medication. Hence, treatment of pleurisy depends largely on its cause and severity.

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Early diagnosis and quick management of the condition make it possible to prevent pleurisy.

For instance, early detection and treatment can prevent fluid from building up in the pleural cavity. Furthermore, it can minimize the levels of inflammation.

Sometimes, pleurisy can be problematic to diagnose, and it is simply confused with other disorders. Thus, when being treated for any ailment, getting rest and maintaining a healthy diet plan can help prevent problems like pleurisy.




The author is a Medical Microbiologist and healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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