What is pleurisy?

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.
Howard E. Lewine, MD
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
  • Fever
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)
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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.

Continue Learning about Pleurisy

What do I need to know about caring for someone with pleurisy?
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The main thing for you to understand about pleurisy is that it is painful. Your loved one may be in ...
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Is pleurisy known by any other names?
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There are other names for pleurisy. The painful lung condition is also known as pleuritis, pleuritic...
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How long does pleurisy last?
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Is pleurisy serious?
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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.