Healthy Living

What is Pleurisy?: Get the Facts

What is Pleurisy?: Get the Facts

Key Takeaways

  • The most common cause of pleurisy is viral infection.
  • The characteristic signs of pleurisy are chest pain and difficulty breathing.
  • The treatment of pleurisy depends on its cause.

What is Pleurisy?

The pleura are very thin membranes that surround your lungs. The pleura have two layers: the inner visceral layer that lines your lungs and the outer parietal layer that 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 some 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.

This, too, can cause very serious problems in breathing, as this infection can spread to the lungs or even the important part around the heart, which, as we all know, is a very important organ in the body.

What Causes Pleurisy?

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

  • Tuberculosis – Tuberculosis is known to cause pleurisy, so if you are experiencing breathing issues for a while, it may be time to get the same checked out at the earliest. Your doctor would probably run a few tests to determine the root cause, which, in this case, is tuberculosis.
  • Pneumothorax – When there is damage to the lung tissue, the air leaks out from the lungs into the pleural cavity. This condition of air in the pleural cavity is known as pneumothorax. This 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, he would recommend 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 this can make you susceptible to pleurisy. Therefore, if you have developed respiratory problems, then it is time that you consulted your doctor right away.
  • Rib fractures – If you have fractured your ribs, then chances are that these fractures can cause you to develop pleurisy.  So make sure that you get your condition diagnosed correctly so that you can seek effective treatment therapies for the same.
  • Autoimmune conditions - Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, as well as other conditions, may cause pleurisy. Here, your immune system is suppressed, resulting in your body being susceptible to other germs and organisms. This can cause you to develop pleurisy and pneumonia, as well.
  • Pneumonia – Pneumonia can cause pleurisy while making 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. After this, your doctor would recommend a set of treatment therapies and may even suggest hospitalization for a short while.
  • Lung tumors – Tumors in the lungs can also cause pleurisy; this is why you need to share all the facts regarding your current and past medical conditions with your doctor, so that he can identify the root cause of pleurisy much faster.
  • Complication of heart surgery – If you have just had heart surgery and there was a small complication in the process of attempting the surgery, then this may cause you to develop pleurisy.
  • Pulmonary embolism – This 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 your pleurisy to flare up, and this is why adequate care needs to be taken during and after the procedure. Discuss with your doctor all the risks involved and how to prevent an occurrence of pleurisy.
  • Fungal and parasitic infections in the lungs can also cause you to develop 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 him determine the root cause your pleurisy.
  • Bacterial infections – Bacterial infections are also known to cause pleurisy. Make an appointment with your doctor the moment you experience persistent breathing problems. Let your doctor run a full battery of tests to determine the key cause, and post that, he would recommend a course of treatment to help treat your pleurisy.
  • Lung cancers – Lung cancers are also known to cause pleurisy, so 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 treatment course to be taken by your doctor.
  • Deep chest injuries - If you have experienced deep chest injuries with deep scarring to your lungs, then this can result in you developing pleurisy. Therefore, head over to the emergency room and get yourself checked out 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 in. The pain is often felt on one side of the chest and sometimes radiates to the shoulders. It worsens with a cough, sneezing, and sudden movement. Due to the severe pain, patients often try to avoid breathing deeply. 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 - If you are experiencing sharp chest pains along with fever and chills, then chances are high that you have pleurisy. You need to seek out a medical consult at the earliest and get it confirmed so that you can begin your treatment process soon.
  • Headaches - If you are experiencing headaches along with chest pains, then it is highly probable that you have pleurisy. However, you need this to be diagnosed correctly, 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 - If you are experiencing joint pain along with deep chest pains, then chances are high that you have pleurisy. Check in with your doctor and ask him to make a diagnosis, after which he would recommend therapy to help you heal and become better.
  • Body aches and pains - If you are experiencing body aches and pains along with chest pains, then it is likely that you have pleurisy. Once the doctor confirms this after running a few tests, he would recommend the most effective treatment to take in order to help treat your current condition.
  • A dry cough in the throat – If you have a persistent dry cough coupled with chest pains, then it is likely that you may have pleurisy. Therefore, make sure that you check with a specialist and get your condition diagnosed correctly.
  • Sore throat – If you have a sore throat along with severe chest pains, then it is time that you consulted your doctor, for it is likely that you are suffering from pleurisy. Make sure that you do get your doctor to provide you with an accurate diagnosis, after which he would also recommend the most effective treatment to help treat your condition.
  • Heaviness in the lungs and in the heart – If you are finding it difficult to breathe on account of your chest pains and also are experiencing this feeling of heaviness in your lungs and heart, then it is serious. Head over to the emergency room, and get yourself checked out. Once the doctors have confirmed the root cause for pleurisy, they would also prescribe the right treatment to take in order to help you heal and become better.
  • Unbearable pain - If you have severe pain in the chest and the surrounding area near the heart, be sure to get checked out.
  • Unbearable pain while coughing, sneezing, or laughing – If you find that you are in 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, so do get yourself checked out completely.
  • Heavy breathing, specifically while at rest - This is indicative of pleurisy, so consult your doctor at the earliest.
  • Tiredness with minimal activity - After walking just a few steps or after doing small amounts of work, you should not be tired. If you are tired, you may have pleurisy. In other words, if you have been experiencing bouts of fatigue, listlessness, drowsiness coupled with chest pains, then get yourself checked into the nearest emergency room and get a complete check up done.

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

Sometimes lung pain can also be taken as a gas formation problem due to indigestion gases that are formed in the body. However, one must also take into consideration the other symptoms of pleurisy.

How is Pleurisy Diagnosed?

The minor flu can to be responsible for the cause of pleurisy. Most of the time, the flu-like conditions are generally ignored by the people. However, if the flu is held on for too long, it can lead to the infection of lungs and the pleurisy condition. Hence, any problems in breathing should be immediately shown to the doctor. A diagnosis of pleurisy can be made using medical history, as well as physical examinations or investigations.

When you consult a doctor with a suspected case of pleurisy, they must speak with you and take a complete medical history followed by a physical examination. During the physical exam, they will listen to your lung sounds to determine if they are consistent with pleurisy.

Pleurisy is a condition that can be caused by a wide range of medical problems. For your doctor to find the cause of your pleurisy, they must typically order some medical tests, like chest x-rays, blood tests, ultrasound scans, CT scans, and diagnostic thoracentesis. During a diagnostic thoracentesis, a doctor inserts a chest tube into the pleural cavity with the help of an ultrasound to remove any built up fluid.

This fluid is then sent for further analysis to check for any infections. The doctors can diagnose pleurisy by hearing the heart beats through a stethoscope. This is because when the two layers rub against each other, they make an unusual sound, which can be easily heard through the stethoscope.

The disease can also be identified through an ultrasonic test, wherein the ultra-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, 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 a surgery. This surgery can also cause internal bleeding of the lungs.