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What is pleurisy?

Pleurisy happens when the 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.

The Lungs

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
  • Certain medicines
  • Lung cancer close to the pleura

What are the signs and symptoms of pleurisy?

  • Sharp, stabbing pain in your side or lower part of your chest
  • Pain that gets worse when you cough, sneeze, or take a breath in
  • Pain in your shoulder or abdomen
  • Pain when your rib area is touched
  • Fever or dry cough

How is pleurisy diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms. Tell him if you have traveled recently or been around anyone who is sick. Your healthcare provider will listen to your lungs through a stethoscope. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may show if you have an infection, or give information about your overall health.
  • A chest x-ray is used to look for swelling or extra fluid in and around your lungs.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your lungs on a monitor. This test is used to look for extra fluid between your pleura.
  • A CT scan is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your lungs. You may be given contrast liquid to help your healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A sample of your sputum may be taken to test for an infection.
  • Pleural biopsy may be needed to rule out other conditions.

How is pleurisy treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your pleurisy and how severe your symptoms are. Your healthcare provider will treat the cause of your pleurisy. You may need medicines to treat a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. You may need medicine to treat your pain and swelling of the pleura.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Find a comfortable position that allows you to decrease pain and breathe easier. You may find it comfortable to lie on your the side that has pleurisy. Change your position frequently to prevent complications, such as worsening pneumonia or lung collapse.
  • Splint your pain when coughing. Hold a pillow against your chest when coughing or taking a deep breath.

How can I prevent pleurisy?

  • Get early treatment for conditions that cause pleurisy.
  • Get vaccinated. Ask your healthcare provider if you should get a flu and pneumonia vaccine. These vaccines may prevent infections that cause pleurisy.

Call 911 if:

  • You have sudden, intense chest pain that feels different from your symptoms.
  • You are breathing fast, feel confused, or feel like you are going to faint.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cough up yellow, green, gray, or bloody mucus.
  • You feel more short of breath than usual.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn dusky or blue.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your pain gets worse, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
  • You have a fever.

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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Pleurisy

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