Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the double-layered membrane that surrounds each lung and the rib cage. The double-layered pleura protects and lubricates the surface of the lungs as they inflate and deflate within the rib cage. Healthy pleura have a thin, fluid-filled space between the two layers that lets them glide gently across each other. When they become inflamed, the diseased surfaces rub painfully together. This causes a characteristic sound called “friction rub.”
Pleurisy cases are defined as having pleural effusion or as being dry. Pleural effusion, an accumulation of fluid in the pleural space, is more common, and is essentially a side effect of numerous diseases or trauma. Dry pleurisy refers to cases where there is no fluid build-up. Pleural effusion is less painful due to the fluid forcing some separation of the membranes. However, the fluid puts pressure on the lungs which can lead to respiratory distress and even lung collapse.
Pleurisy is a potentially serious condition that can have long-term effects. The sooner you seek medical care, the more favorable the outcome. Contact your doctor if you think you may have pleurisy.
There are several causes for either acute or chronic pleurisy.
- Viral infection (influenza, mumps)
- Lung infections from bacteria (eg, tuberculosis) or parasites (eg, amebiasis)
- Systemic lupus
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cancer metastases
- Liver and kidney disease (chronic)
- Sickle cell disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- After a heart attack (eg, Dressler’s syndrome)
- Heart failure
- Pulmonary embolism
- Chest injury
- Drug reaction (nitrofurantoin, procainamide)
The following factors increase your chance of developing pleurisy. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:
- Infection, injury, or tumor
- An underlying lung condition, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung abscesses, or influenza
These are the most common causes, however, pleurisy can occur spontaneously.
If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to pleurisy. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.
- Sharp, stabbing pain towards the side and lower part of the chest especially when lying down, with relief by sitting up
- Pain along the shoulders, neck, and abdomen
- Aggravated pain during any movement of the chest, such as breathing and coughing
- Dry coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid and shallow breathing