Pleuritis: Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment

What is Pleuritis or Pleurisy?

Pleuritis or Pleurisy is a medical condition where there is inflammation of the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs and chest. This causes chest pain (often acute) upon coughing or breathing. Treatment and recovery of Pleuritis or Pleurisy depends on the cause.

Pleuritis or Pleurisy

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Pleuritis or Pleurisy?

Infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis may cause inflammation of the lungs and result in pleuritis or pleurisy. This inflammation is also responsible for causing the sharp chest pain from pleurisy.

Other Conditions Which Leads To Developing Pleuritis or Pleurisy Are:

  • Diseases related to asbestos
  • Some cancers
  • Trauma to the chest can cause pleuritis or pleurisy
  • Pulmonary embolus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause pleuritis or pleurisy
  • Lupus

Signs and Symptoms of Pleuritis or Pleurisy

  • Pain in the chest is the main symptom of pleurisy. This acute pain usually occurs upon inhaling and exhaling a deep breath or coughing.
  • In some patients suffering from pleuritis, the pain may radiate to the shoulder too.
  • Chest movement, deep breathing and coughing aggravates the pain associated with pleuritis or pleurisy.
  • Fever with chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry cough

There is collection of fluid inside the chest cavity which makes breathing difficult and causes the following symptoms:

  • Cyanosis (bluish skin color)
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)

Serious Symptoms of Pleuritis or Pleurisy Include:

  • High fever
  • Extreme shortness of breath
  • Sudden and intense chest pain

Investigations To Diagnose Pleuritis or Pleurisy

  • Medical history and physical exam.
  • A “friction rub” can be heard with the help of stethoscope or by placing an ear against the patient’s chest, as the pleura becomes rough and produces a grating sound (friction rub).
  • X-ray of the chest
  • Ultrasound of the chest
  • CT scan of the chest
  • CBC
  • Thoracentesis
  • Pleural biopsy
  • Thoracoscopy

Treatment for Pleuritis or Pleurisy

  • Treatment depends on the cause of pleuritis.
  • In case of pleurisy due to bacterial infections, antibiotics are given.
  • If the patient has viral infection causing pleuritis, then it normally runs its course without the need for medications.
  • Surgery may also be required for draining infected fluid from the lungs.
  • Painkillers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs like ibuprofen help in controlling the pain of pleuritis or pleurisy.
  • Duration of recovery from pleuritis depends on the cause of the pleurisy.
  • Plenty of rest should be taken and lying on the painful side can actually alleviate the pain.

Complications from Pleuritis or Pleurisy Include: Difficulty in breathing, thoracentesis may cause a collapsed lung and complications due to the actual underlying cause or illness.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 10, 2018

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