Thumbnail image of: Respiratory System: Illustration


What is pleurisy?

Pleurisy is when the lining that covers your lungs and the inside of your chest wall is swollen and irritated. This lining is called the pleura. Pleurisy is also called pleuritis.

What is the cause?

Pleurisy may happen when:

  • You have a lung infection, such as a cold, flu, pneumonia, or tuberculosis.
  • Your chest is injured.
  • Part or all of one of your lungs collapses (a pneumothorax).
  • You have a blood clot in a lung.
  • You have diseases such as sickle cell, arthritis, heart failure, liver disease, or cancer.
  • You have chest or heart surgery.

You are at greater risk of having pleurisy if you smoke.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Sudden, sharp chest pain when you breathe (especially when you breathe deeply), cough, sneeze, or laugh
  • Pain that gets better or goes away between breaths
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Fever

Sometimes pleurisy causes a lot of swelling, and fluid collects in the space between your lungs and your ribcage (pleural space). This collection of fluid is called a pleural effusion, and the symptoms are the same as pleurisy. The fluid buildup makes it hard for your lungs to expand when you breathe. If you can’t breathe normally, your body may not get enough oxygen to work properly. The fluid needs to be removed in the hospital.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Using a stethoscope on your chest, your provider will listen for a rubbing sound when you breathe. You may have one or more of these tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood tests
  • Thoracentesis, which uses a needle inserted through a space between your ribs to remove fluid or air

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your pleurisy. Your healthcare provider may prescribe:

  • Medicine for the pain and inflammation
  • Medicine to inhale to help open the airways so you can breathe more easily
  • An antibiotic if you have a bacterial infection
  • Medicines to treat blood clots

You may need to stay in the hospital for treatment if you have had a chest injury or collapsed lung.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • If you are taking an antibiotic, take the medicine for as long as your healthcare provider prescribes, even if you feel better. If you stop taking the medicine too soon, you may not kill all of the bacteria and you may get sick again.
  • It is very important to breathe deeply several times an hour when you have pleurisy. When you don’t breathe deeply, the lower parts of your lungs can collapse, and increase your risk for pneumonia.
  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from others who are smoking.
  • Avoid breathing dust and chemical fumes.
  • Ask your provider about taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen for fever or chest pain. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-23
Last reviewed: 2014-09-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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