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What is pleurisy?

Pleurisy is when the lining around your lungs (pleura) becomes irritated or swollen. The pleura are 2 thin layers of tissue that surround your lungs and line the inside of your chest cavity. There is a small amount of fluid between the pleura that helps the layers move easily when you breathe. When the pleura is irritated or swollen, the layers rub together as you breathe.

What causes pleurisy?

The cause of pleurisy is not always known. The following may cause pleurisy:

  • A viral infection, such as the flu

  • Other infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

  • Trauma to your chest

What are the signs and symptoms of pleurisy?

  • Chest pain when you inhale and exhale

  • Pain that gets worse when you cough, sneeze, move your chest, or take a deep breath

  • Pain on one side of your back, shoulder, or neck

  • Sharp, stabbing, burning, or dull pain

  • Pain relief when you apply pressure over the painful area of your chest

How is pleurisy diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your signs and symptoms and examine you. Tell him if you have traveled recently or been around anyone who is sick. Your caregiver will listen to your lungs through a stethoscope. With pleurisy, your caregiver may hear a rubbing or squeaking sound in your chest when you breathe. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood tests to find out if you have an infection. The blood may be taken from your hand or arm.

  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs. Caregivers use it to look for signs of infection or extra fluid in your lungs.

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your lungs on a monitor. This test is used to look for extra fluid in between your pleura.

  • CT scan: This is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your lungs. You may be given dye in your IV before the pictures are taken. The dye helps your caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish.

How is pleurisy treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your pleurisy and how severe your symptoms are. You may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is used if your pleurisy is caused by a bacteria. It will help fight infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.

  • Cough medicine: This medicine helps decrease your urge to cough. A cough suppressant may help if a dry cough is causing you pain.

  • NSAIDs: NSAIDs may decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine can be bought with or without a doctor's order. This medicine can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. Always read the medicine label and follow the directions before you use this medicine.

  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease severe pain if other pain medicines do not work. Take the medicine as directed. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Support your painful side: Hold a pillow or folded blanket tightly over your chest when you cough or take a deep breath.

  • Use a humidifier: Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough. Wash the humidifier each day with soap and warm water to keep it free of germs.

What are the risks of pleurisy?

  • When extra fluid collects in the space between the pleura, it can cause a pleural effusion. This can get infected or cause you to have trouble breathing. The extra fluid may need to be drained with a needle or a chest tube. A pleural effusion can be life-threatening.

  • Without treatment, pleurisy may cause or worsen a lung infection, such as pneumonia. Pleurisy can cause scarring of the tissues as it heals. These are called adhesions. Adhesions can cause permanent breathing problems.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your pain gets worse, even after treatment.

  • You begin to cough up yellow, green, gray, or bloody mucus.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have shortness of breath.

  • Your lips or fingernails turn dusky or blue.

  • You have sudden, intense chest pain that feels different from your symptoms.

  • You are confused or feel like you are going to faint.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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