Pleurisy: Symptoms, treatment, and causes

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the lung lining. The severity of the condition can range from mild to life-threatening.

Since many cases are mild and resolve themselves without treatment, it is hard to estimate how many people contract pleurisy worldwide.

Fast facts on pleurisy:

Here are some key points about pleurisy. More information is in the main article.

Since the invention of antibiotics, pleurisy has become rarer.

Pleurisy generally lasts from a few days to 2 weeks and often resolves without treatment.

There are many potential causes of pleurisy, including pancreatitis, lung cancer, and chest wounds.

The main symptom of pleurisy is a stabbing pain in the chest.

Symptoms

The main symptom of pleurisy is a sharp, stabbing pain, or a constant ache in the chest. The pain may present on one or both sides of the chest, the shoulders, and the back. It will often get worse with the motion of breathing.

Other symptoms include:

shortness of breath, or rapid, shallow breathing

coughing

unexplained weight loss

rapid heartbeat

Pleurisy is often caused by a viral infection. In these cases, symptoms may also include:

a sore throat

fever

chills

headaches

joint pain

muscle aches

Treatment

aspirin tablets
The treatment options for pleural pain include aspirin, ibuprofen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Treatment of pleurisy focuses on resolving the cause, such as a virus or other infections. Antibiotics will be prescribed if the inflammation is a result of a bacterial infection.

In some cases, an individual may need to have fluid drained from the pleural cavity through a tube that is inserted into the chest.

Pain can be managed with aspirin, ibuprofen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Ibuprofen can be purchased over-the-counter or online.

In severe cases, prescription pain and cough medicines may be used, including codeine-based cough syrups.

A blockage in the blood vessel that runs from the heart to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. The person with pleurisy may be placed on blood thinners if the physician diagnoses a pulmonary embolism.

If the cause is related to an autoimmune condition, such as lupus, then a rheumatologist will treat the disease with medication.

Treatment depends largely on the cause and the severity of the condition.

Historically, Native Americans have used the pleurisy root to treat pleurisy, also called butterfly weed. There are some safety concerns regarding butterfly weed. Physicians do not recommend its use as there is no evidence that confirms butterfly weed to be an effective cure.

Sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cell anemia is a potential cause of pleurisy. It is characterized by the presence of red blood cells shaped like sickles.

The most common cause is a viral infection of the lungs spreading to the pleural cavity.

Other causes include:

bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis

a chest wound that punctures the pleural cavity

a pleural tumor

autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

sickle cell anemia

pancreatitis

pulmonary embolism

heart surgery

lung cancer or lymphoma

a fungal or parasitic infection

inflammatory bowel disease

familial Mediterranean fever

certain medications, such as procainamide, hydralazine, or isoniazid

Infections can sometimes spread, but it is rare to contract pleurisy from another person. It is not contagious.

Pleurisy more often affects people aged over 65 years, those with existing medical conditions, or those who recently experienced a chest injury or underwent heart surgery.

Pleurisy and smoking are not strongly connected. Cigarettes are rarely the direct cause. However, an individual with pleurisy is advised to avoid smoking as it often leads to coughing, and this can increase the pain.

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