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Classification and external resources
Pleurisy and pneumothorax.jpg
Figure A shows the location of the lungs, airways, pleura, and diaphragm. The inset image shows a detailed view of the two pleural layers and pleural space. Figure B shows lungs with pleurisy and pneumothorax. The inset image shows a detailed view of an infected lung with thickened and inflamed pleural layers.
ICD-10J90, R09.1
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This article is about the disease. For the plant known as "pleurisy root", see Butterfly weed.
Classification and external resources
Pleurisy and pneumothorax.jpg
Figure A shows the location of the lungs, airways, pleura, and diaphragm. The inset image shows a detailed view of the two pleural layers and pleural space. Figure B shows lungs with pleurisy and pneumothorax. The inset image shows a detailed view of an infected lung with thickened and inflamed pleural layers.
ICD-10J90, R09.1

Pleurisy (also known as pleuritis) is an inflammation of the pleura, the lining surrounding the lungs.[1] There are many possible causes of pleurisy but viral infections spreading from the lungs to pleural cavity are the most common.[2] The inflamed pleural layers rub against each other every time the lungs expand to breathe in air.[3] This can cause sharp pain when breathing, also called pleuritic chest pain.[4][5]


The defining symptom of pleurisy is a sudden sharp, stabbing, burning or dull pain in the right or left side of the chest during breathing, especially when one inhales and exhales.[6] It feels worse with deep breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing. The pain may stay in one place, or it may spread to the shoulder or back.[7] Sometimes, it becomes a fairly constant dull ache.[8]

Depending on its cause, pleuritic chest pain may be accompanied by other symptoms:[9]


Pleural linings and space (marked in blue)

Pleural space can be invaded by fluid, air, and particles from different parts of the body which fairly complicates the diagnosis.[9][10] Viral infection (coxsackievirus, RSV, CMV, adenovirus, EBV, parainfluenza, influenza) is the most common cause of pleurisy. However, many other different conditions can cause pleuritic chest pain:[8]

When the space between two layers of pleura starts to fill with fluid in a case of pleural effusion, it can ease the chest pain, but instead creates a shortness of breath, since the lungs need room to expand during breathing. Some cases of pleuritic chest pain are idiopathic, which means that the exact cause cannot be determined.


A diagnosis of pleurisy or another pleural condition is based on a medical history, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests.[9] The goals are to rule out other sources of the symptoms and to find the cause of the pleurisy so that the underlying disorder can be treated.

Physical examination[edit]

A doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to the breathing. This method detects any unusual sounds in the lungs. A person with pleurisy may have inflamed layers of the pleura that make a rough, scratchy sound as they rub against each other during breathing. This is called pleural friction rub.

Diagnostic tests[edit]

Depending on the results of the physical examination, diagnostic tests are sometimes performed.

Chest x-ray[edit]

A chest x-ray takes a picture of the heart and lungs. It may show air or fluid in the pleural space. It also may show the cause (e.g., pneumonia, a fractured rib, or a lung tumor) of the pleurisy.

Sometimes an x-ray is taken while lying on the painful side. This may show fluid, as well as changes in fluid position, that did not appear in the vertical x-ray.

Blood test[edit]

Blood tests can detect bacterial or viral infections, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, a pulmonary embolism, or lupus.


Electrocardiography test can determine if a heart condition contributes to the symptoms.


Ultrasonography uses sound waves to create an image. It may show where fluid is located in the chest. It also can show some tumors. Although ultrasound may detect fluid around the lungs, also known as a pleural effusion, sound waves cannot penetrate bone. Therefore, an actual picture of the lungs cannot be obtained with ultrasonography.

Computed tomography (CT) scan[edit]

A CT scan provides a computer-generated picture of the lungs that can show pockets of fluid. It also may show signs of pneumonia, a lung abscess, or a tumor.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)[edit]

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), also called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) scanning, uses powerful magnets to show pleural effusions and tumors.

Arterial blood gas[edit]

In arterial blood-gas sampling, a small amount of blood is taken from an artery, usually in the wrist. The blood is then checked for oxygen and carbon-dioxide levels. This test shows how well the lungs are taking in oxygen.


The illustration shows a person undergoing thoracentesis. The person sits upright and leans on a table. Excess fluid from the pleural space is drained into a bag.

Once the presence of an excess fluid in the pleural cavity, or pleural effusion, is suspected and location of fluid is confirmed, a sample of fluid can be removed for testing.[11] The procedure to remove fluid in the chest is called a diagnostic thoracentesis.[12] The doctor inserts a small needle or a thin, hollow, plastic tube in the chest wall and withdraws fluid.[13]

Thoracentesis can be done in the doctor's office or at the hospital. Ultrasound is used to guide the needle to the fluid that is trapped in small pockets around the lungs.

Thoracentesis usually does not cause serious complications. Generally, a chest x-ray is done after the procedure to evaluate the lungs. Possible complications of thoracentesis include the following:

The lung fluid is examined under a microscope and is evaluated for the presence of chemicals and for its color and texture. The degree of clarity is an indicator of infection, cancer, or other conditions that may be causing the buildup of fluid or blood in the pleural space.


If tuberculosis or cancer is suspected, a small piece of the pleura may be examined under a microscope to make a definitive diagnosis. This is called a biopsy.

Several approaches to taking tissue samples are available

  1. Insertion of a needle through the skin on the chest to remove a small sample of the outer layer of the pleura.
  2. Insertion of a small tube with a light on the end (endoscope) into tiny cuts in the chest wall in order to visualize the pleura. Small pieces of tissue can be biopsied though the endoscope.
  3. Removal of a sample of the pleura through a small cut in the chest wall. This is called an open pleural biopsy. It is usually done if the sample from the needle biopsy is too small for an accurate diagnosis.


Treatment has several goals:[9]


If large amounts of fluid, air, or blood are not removed from the pleural space, they may cause the lung to collapse.

The surgical procedures used to drain fluid, air, or blood from the pleural space are as follows:


A couple of medications are used to relieve pleurisy symptoms:

There may be a role for the use of corticosteroids (for tuberculous pleurisy), tacrolimus (Prograf) and methotrexate (Trexall, Rheumatrex) in the treatment of pleurisy. Further studies are needed.

Lifestyle changes[edit]

The following may be helpful in the management of pleurisy:

Treating the cause[edit]

Ideally, the treatment of pleurisy is aimed at eliminating the underlying cause of the disease.

The treatment for pleurisy depends on its origin and is prescribed by a physician on a base of an individual assessment.[15] Paracetamol (acetaminophen) and amoxicillin, or other antibiotics in case of bacterial infections, are common remedies dispensed by doctors to relieve the initial symptoms and pain in the chest, while viral infections are self-limited. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), preferably indometacin, are usually employed as pain control agents.[9]

Alternative treatments[edit]

A number of alternative or complementary medicines are being investigated for their anti-inflammatory properties, and their use in pleurisy. At this time, clinical trials of these compounds have not been performed.

Extracts from the Brazilian folk remedy Wilbrandia ebracteata ("Taiuia") have been shown to reduce inflammation in the pleural cavity of mice.[16][17] The extract is thought to inhibit the same enzyme, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.[17] Similarly, an extract from the roots of the Brazilian Petiveria alliacea plant reduced inflammation in a rat model of pleurisy.[18] The extract also reduced pain sensations in the rats. An aqueous extract from Solidago chilensis has been shown to reduce inflammation in a mouse model of pleurisy.[19]

Pleurisy root Asclepias tuberosa is another example of a herbal solution for this inflammation.

Related problems[edit]

Pleurisy is often associated with complications that affect the pleural space.

Pleural effusion[edit]

In some cases of pleurisy, excess fluid builds up in the pleural space. This is called a pleural effusion. The buildup of fluid usually forces the two layers of the pleura apart so they don't rub against each other when breathing. This can relieve the pain of pleurisy. A large amount of extra fluid can push the pleura against the lung until the lung, or a part of it, collapses. This can make it hard to breathe.

In some cases of pleural effusion, the extra fluid gets infected and turns into an abscess. This is called an empyema.

Pleural effusion involving fibrinous exudates in the fluid may be called fibrinous pleurisy. It sometimes occurs as a later stage of pleurisy.

A person can develop a pleural effusion in the absence of pleurisy. For example, pneumonia, heart failure, cancer, or a pulmonary embolism can lead to a pleural effusion.


Air or gas also can build up in the pleural space. This is called a pneumothorax. It can result from acute lung injury or a lung disease like emphysema. Lung procedures, like surgery, drainage of fluid with a needle, examination of the lung from the inside with a light and a camera, or mechanical ventilation, also can cause a pneumothorax.

The most common symptom is sudden pain in one side of the lung and shortness of breath. A pneumothorax also can put pressure on the lung and cause it to collapse.

If the pneumothorax is small, it may go away on its own. If large, a chest tube is placed through the skin and chest wall into the pleural space to remove the air.


Blood also can collect in the pleural space. This is called hemothorax. The most common cause is injury to the chest from blunt force or surgery on the heart or chest. Hemothorax also can occur in people with lung or pleural cancer.

Hemothorax can put pressure on the lung and force it to collapse. It also can cause shock, a state of hypoperfusion in which an insufficient amount of blood is able to reach the organs.


Pleurisy and other disorders of the pleura can be serious, depending on what caused them. Generally, pleurisy treatment has an excellent prognosis, but if left untreated it can cause severe complications. For example, a resulting pulmonary heart disease cor pulmonale, which manifests itself with an inflammation of the arms and legs, can lead to heart failure. If the conditions that caused the pleurisy or other pleural disorders were adequately diagnosed and treated early, one can expect a full recovery. Help of a pulmonologist (respiratory physician in the U.K. and Australia) may be enlisted to address the underlying course of a pleurisy and chart post-illness rehabilitation.

Notable cases[edit]


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External links[edit]