Healthy Living

What Is Pleurisy: Get the Facts

What is Pleurisy?: Get the Facts

What is pleurisy?

The pleural membrane is a very thin membrane that surrounds your lungs. It has two layers:

  • Inner visceral layer - lines your lungs 
  • Outer parietal layer - lines the inside of your chest wall

Between these two layers, there is a tiny space known as the pleural cavity. This space is filled with a small amount of lubricating fluid that helps the two layers to rub against each other smoothly when you breathe. 

Pleurisy occurs when the lining of these pleural membranes becomes inflamed. When they are inflamed, the two pleural membranes rub against each other with great friction, resulting in chest pain called pleuritic chest pain.

The inflammation in the lungs can be caused by an intense cough, hard sneezes, or even breathing problems, due to which the lungs become inflamed and rub against each other like sandpaper. In some cases, the fluid between the two layers can get infected as well. Such condition can cause very serious problems in breathing, as the infection can spread to the lungs or even the important parts around the heart, which is a very important organ in the body.

What causes pleurisy?

Pleurisy can be caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. However, it is more commonly caused by a viral infection. There are several other causes of pleurisy, and some of them include:

  • TuberculosisTuberculosis is known to cause pleurisy, so if you are experiencing breathing issues for a while, it may be time to consult the doctor. Your doctor would probably run a few tests to determine the root cause, which, in this case, is tuberculosis.
  • PneumothoraxWhen there is damage to the lung tissue, air leaks out from the lungs and into the pleural cavity. This condition of air in the pleural cavity is known as pneumothorax. This condition can make it extremely painful for you to even breathe in air, which is why you need to visit a doctor right away regarding your current condition. Additionally, on confirmation, the doctor would recommend an effective treatment and may even suggest hospitalization for a short while to monitor your condition better.
  • Trauma to the chest wall - If you have been in an accident in the past and have signs of trauma to the chest wall, then you are more susceptible to pleurisy. If you have developed respiratory problems, then it is recommended to consult a doctor right away.
  • Rib fractures - If you have fractured your ribs, then chances are that these fractures can cause you to develop pleurisy. Thus, make sure that you are correctly diagnosed to receive an appropriate treatment.
  • Autoimmune conditions - Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, as well as other conditions, may cause pleurisy. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system is suppressed, resulting in your body being susceptible to other harmful microorganisms. Thus, such conditions can cause you to develop pleurisy and pneumonia as well.
  • Pneumonia - Pneumonia can cause pleurisy, which makes it extremely painful and difficult for you to draw in a single breath. Therefore, make an appointment with your doctor and get your condition diagnosed. The doctor would recommend a set of treatment therapies and may even suggest hospitalization for a short while.
  • Lung tumors - Tumor in the lungs can also cause pleurisy, which is why you need to share all the facts regarding your current and past medical conditions with your doctor to properly identify the root cause of pleurisy faster.
  • Heart surgery complication - If you just had a heart surgery and had a small complication during the surgical procedure, you may develop pleurisy. 
  • Pulmonary embolismThis condition is also known to cause pleurisy, so make it a point to get a full medical checkup done when consulting the doctor, so that he can rule out some of the more serious health issues.
  • Dissection of the aorta - Dissection of the aorta can cause pleurisy to flare-up. For this reason, adequate care needs to be taken during and after the procedure. Discuss with your doctor all the risks involved and how to prevent the occurrence of pleurisy.
  • Fungal and parasitic infections in the lungs - Lung infections can also cause pleurisy, so make an appointment with the doctor and get a full checkup done, so that the doctor can determine if you have fungal or parasitic infections in your lungs. A simple scan should highlight the issue and help the doctor determine the root cause of pleurisy.
  • Bacterial infections - Pleurisy can also be due to bacterial infections. Make an appointment with your doctor the moment you experience persistent breathing problems. Let your doctor run a set of comprehensive tests to determine the root cause. After the diagnosis, the doctor would recommend a course of treatment for your condition.
  • Lung cancerLung cancer is also known to cause pleurisy. It is important that you seek out medical consultation at the earliest and get your condition diagnosed correctly. The right diagnosis will help determine the appropriate treatment course.
  • Deep chest injuries - If you have experienced deep chest injuries with scarring to your lungs, then it can result in pleurisy. Therefore, head over to the emergency room and get yourself assessed right away.

Know the Symptoms of Pleurisy

The characteristic signs of pleurisy are chest and breathing difficulties. The chest pain associated with pleurisy can have a very sudden onset. It is typically a sharp, stabbing pain that increases when breathing. The pain is often felt on one side of the chest, which sometimes radiates to the shoulders. It worsens with coughing, sneezing, and sudden movements. Due to severe pain, patients often try to avoid deep breathing. The pain resulting from pleurisy can be temporarily reduced by applying pressure over the area or holding your breath.

Other symptoms of pleurisy may include:

  • Fever with chills - Pleurisy can cause fever and chills along with sharp chest pains. You need to consult a doctor right away for proper diagnosis and corresponding treatment. 
  • Headaches - It is a symptom usually experienced when pleurisy is caused by a viral infection. If you are experiencing headaches along with chest pains, then it is highly probable that you have pleurisy. However, you need to be correctly diagnosed, since various health issues can cause similar symptoms. Head over to the nearest emergency room and get a full workup done at the earliest.
  • Joint pain - Usually, joint pain is a symptom of arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. However, pleurisy can also cause joint pain. Consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. The doctor would recommend an effective treatment course to help you heal and become better.
  • Body aches and pains - Don't let your body aches and pain go undiagnosed since these symptoms can also be due to pleurisy. Once the doctor confirms your condition after running a few tests, he would recommend the most effective treatment to help treat your condition.
  • A dry coughConsult a doctor if you are experiencing a persistent dry cough coupled with chest pains. Make sure that you consult a specialist and get your condition diagnosed correctly.
  • Sore throatA sore throat can be experienced when pleurisy is caused by a viral infection. If you have a sore throat along with severe chest pains, then it is better to consult a doctor to accurately diagnose your condition. 
  • Heaviness in the lungs and heart - If you are having chest pains, difficulty in breathing, and a feeling of heaviness in your lungs and heart, immediately seek medical attention. Head over to the nearest emergency room for a medical assessment. Once the doctors have confirmed the root cause of your condition, they will prescribe the right treatment to help you recover.
  • Unbearable pain - If you are experiencing severe pain in the chest and pain in the surrounding area near the heart, seek medical attention right away. 
  • Unbearable pain while coughing, sneezing, or laughing - If you experience excruciating pain each time you cough, sneeze, or laugh, and you have residual chest pains, then it is serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room.
  • Heavy breathing, specifically while at rest - Heavy breathing is indicative of pleurisy, so consult a doctor as soon as possible. 
  • Tiredness with minimal activity - After walking just a few steps or after doing minimal work, you should not be so tired. Having pleurisy can make you feel easily tired. In other words, if you have been experiencing bouts of fatigue, listlessness, and drowsiness coupled with chest pains, then get yourself checked into the nearest emergency room and get a complete check up done.

With continued inflammation, sometimes, fluid builds up in the pleural cavity. This condition is called as pleural effusion. The fluid layer separates the two pleural layers and prevents them from painfully rubbing against each other. However, as the fluid level keeps increasing, it eventually pushes on the lungs and prevents them from fully expanding, which will make it difficult to breathe. It will also cause fever, dry cough, and chest pain.

How is pleurisy diagnosed?

Mild flu can potentially cause pleurisy. Most of the time, the flu-like conditions are generally ignored by people. However, if the flu is held on for too long, it can lead to lung infections and pleurisy. Hence, any lung problem should be immediately checked by a doctor. A pleurisy diagnosis can be made after taking the patient's medical history, conducting a physical examination, and other diagnostic tests.

Pleurisy is a condition that can be caused by a wide range of medical problems. To find out the root cause of pleurisy, the doctor may order the following tests:

During a diagnostic thoracentesis, a doctor inserts a chest tube into the pleural cavity with the help of an ultrasound to remove any fluid buildup. This fluid is then sent to the laboratory for further analysis and to check for any infections. The doctor can also diagnose pleurisy by listening to the patient's heart beat through a stethoscope. This is done because when two layers of pleura rub against each other, they make an unusual sound, which can be easily heard through the stethoscope.

Pleurisy can also be identified through an ultrasonic test, wherein ultrasonic waves will show a disturbance in the flow when the lungs rub against each other.

Treating Pleurisy

The treatment of pleurisy depends on the specific cause of the condition. For example, if your pleurisy is caused by bacterial pneumonia, then you will likely be prescribed antibiotics. If the cause for your pleurisy is a pulmonary embolism, then you will be given special drugs to dissolve the clot. In addition to these drugs, your doctor may also give you analgesics such as paracetamol and NSAIDs for general pain relief. 

If you have a pleural effusion, then you may require hospitalization for a longer period of time to remove the fluid from the pleural cavity. Treating pleurisy is very risky because it involves a number of complicated activities of draining the fluid through a needle as well as other procedures. The person might feel much pain during this process, and he may also undergo surgery, which may cause internal bleeding of the lungs.

Key Takeaways

  • Pleurisy occurs when the lining of pleural membranes becomes inflamed. When they are inflamed, two pleural membranes rub against each other with great friction, resulting in chest pain called pleuritic chest pain.
  • Pleurisy can be caused by either bacterial or viral infection. However, it is more commonly caused by a viral infection.
  • The treatment of pleurisy depends on the specific cause of the condition.