What is pleurisy?
Pleurisy is the inflammation of the thin pleural membranes that line the lungs.
What happens in pleurisy?
A thin membrane called the pleura lines your lungs. The pleura are double-layered membranes that line your lungs as well as the inner aspect of the chest wall. Between these double membranes, there is a small amount of lubricating fluid that allows the pleura to rub against each other smoothly when you breathe in and out.
In conditions like viral infections, tuberculosis, bacterial pneumonia, and pulmonary embolism, the pleural membranes become inflamed and swell. They become rough like sandpaper. Therefore, during these infections, the pleural membranes will rub against each other with a lot of friction causing a severe sharp, stabbing pain while breathing. The pain is most severe when you breathe in because the lungs expand and cause the pleural membranes to rub against each other with friction exacerbating the pain. The pain reduces when you hold your breath or lie down on the side of the pain.
What are the long-term complications of pleurisy?
Single episodes of pleurisy like those seen in cases of bacterial pneumonia or viral infections usually do not cause any long-term complications. In these cases, pleurisy will be cured completely once the underlying cause is fully treated.
Occasionally, people with pleurisy can develop scarring of the lungs. This will lead to abnormal breathing patterns and cause severe persisting chest pain. Some of the complications that can occur following pleurisy are:
1. Pleural effusions
Pleural effusion is the accumulation of excess amounts of fluid within the pleural cavity. This could be as a result of increased secretion of the fluid or reduced drainage. With the collection of fluid in the pleural cavity, the pleural membranes become separated by this fluid layer and cushion the pleural membranes; therefore, one could experience a reduction in their chest pain. However, this can result in other serious complications.
With the accumulation of fluid within the pleural cavity, the fluid will add pressure to the lungs limiting its expansion, and therefore, causing difficulty in breathing, coughing, and cyanosis. Cyanosis is the bluish discoloration of the mucous membranes and skin due to less oxygenated blood.
2. Lung collapse
Another name given to this is pneumothorax. This condition may result if thoracentesis is not carried out properly. Thoracentesis is a medical procedure done to drain out the excess fluid from the pleural cavity. If it is not done properly, the excess amount of air will build up within the pleural cavity causing the lung to collapse or deflate.
3. Pleural fibrosis
Pleural fibrosis is a rare complication of pleurisy. It is due to the inflammation of the pleura or due to the exposure to asbestos. Pleural fibrosis is the thickening of the pleura as a result of scarring of the pleura. This can impair the function of the pleural membrane and can lead to serious outcomes and sometimes even death.
You can easily avoid these complications by treating pleurisy early in the disease course. A person can return to his/her normal healthy living style with the proper treatment for pleurisy.