The pleura is a thin membrane with two layers. One layer lines the inside of the chest wall. The other layer covers the lungs. Between the two layers of pleura (the pleural cavity) is a tiny amount of fluid. This acts like lubricating oil between the lungs and the chest wall as they move when you breathe.

What is pleurisy?

Pleurisy means inflammation of the pleura. Pleurisy, or other problems that affect the pleura, can cause a 'pleuritic' chest pain. This is usually a sharp stabbing pain. The pain is made worse by breathing in, or coughing, as this causes the two parts of the inflamed pleura to rub over each other.

What are the causes of pleurisy

A viral infection-most common cause

There are other more serious causes of pleuritic pain, but these are much less common than viral pleurisy. For example, pneumonia, blood clots in the lung (pulmonary embolism), chest injuries, a collapsed lung (pneumothorax), tumours of the lung, and inflammation associated with some forms of arthritis.

See a doctor if any of the following occur with a pleuritic chest pain:

  • Pain that develops slowly over several days or weeks.
  • Pain that does not ease and go after a few days.
  • Breathlessness (shortness of breath) or other breathing difficulties.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Any other symptom that you are unsure of, or cannot explain.
Do I need any tests?

The most important thing when diagnosing the cause of a pleuritic pain is for a doctor to talk to you about your symptoms and to examine you. A doctor may arrange tests such as a chest X-ray. Other tests are sometimes done if a serious cause is suspected and the chest X-ray is not conclusive.

What is the treatment for pleurisy?

If you have a viral pleurisy, take painkillers regularly until the pain eases. Your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers if the pain is severe. If you have other causes of pleuritic pain (such as pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, etc), the treatment depends on the cause.

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