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Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura, the membranes that surround the lungs, and the inside of the chest cavity. Pleurisy is often referred to as pleuritis or inflammation of the pleura. There is a small space between the lungs and the chest cavity wall, called the pleural space, which is normally filled with fluid (pleural fluid). The fluid ensures that the membranes move smoothly against each other when a person breathes in and out. Because the pain sensation fibers of the lungs are located in the pleura, inflammation of these tissues caused by pleurisy results in a sharp, distinctive pain in the chest.
When there is inflammation in the chest or lungs, the pleura may rub directly against each other. This typically causes a sharp pain on the inflamed side of the chest that occurs when a person breathes in. Pleurisy is often associated with excess fluid in the pleural space, called pleural effusion. This puts pressure on the pleural space, which can also cause pain when a person breathes in. There is generally no pain between breaths. Coughing and shortness of breath can occur as well.
Pleurisy is most often caused by viral infections. Some medications and medical conditions, such as lupus and tuberculosis, may also cause pleurisy.
Pleurisy can happen to any person at any age. It is more likely to occur in patients with a medical condition known to cause pleurisy or in patients with recurrent lung infections. The duration of pleurisy depends on the cause. If it is caused by a viral infection, it will usually go away within a few days. If a bacterial infection causes pleurisy, it will last until the infection is cleared with antibiotics. Patients with pleurisy caused by lung cancer or other diseases can have symptoms that last much longer.
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The lining inside the rib cage and around the lung is called the pleura. Inflammation of this lining is known as pleuritis, but the more commonly used term is pleurisy.
Normally there is a very tiny amount of fluid between the pleural surface that surrounds the lung and the pleural surface that covers the inside of the rib cage. The fluid is the grease that allows the two smooth surfaces to glide over each other as you breathe in to expand the lungs and breathe out as the lungs contract.
Many years ago when tuberculosis (TB) was more common in the United States, pleurisy was often associated with TB. So, a diagnosis of pleurisy could be scary.
While pleuritis is quite common in the U.S. today, it is very rarely caused by TB.
The main symptom of pleuritis is pain when you take a deep breath. Most often the cause of pleuritis cannot be determined and the symptoms usually go away after a few days. A viral infection inflaming the pleura is a likely possibility.
There are many other causes of pleuritis. It can be a symptom of something more serious, such as a pulmonary embolus (a blood clot that travels to the lung), or pneumonia. Almost always there will be other symptoms, not just chest pain with a deep breath.
Any of these additional symptoms require immediate medical evaluation or at least an immediate call for medical advice:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness (passing out)
Pleurisy, also called pleuritis, occurs when the membrane (pleura) that lines the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs becomes inflamed. It can be related to a variety of underlying causes, including asbestos-related disease, certain cancers, chest trauma, pulmonary embolus and rheumatic disease.
Pleurisy is a lung condition where the lining of your lungs and chest cavity are inflamed. The lung and chest cavity lining is called the pleura. Pleurisy causes sharp chest pains when you cough or breathe. It can be caused by a variety of conditions, including infection, cancer, or chest trauma. The condition should be medically assessed and treated as needed.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.