Health Care

Pleurisy 101: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

A Man Holds his Hands to his Chest While Sitting on his Bed.

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When our lungs are healthy, we’re able to speak, laugh and sing, leading our best lives each day. Taking care of these organs is part of a healthy lifestyle, and sometimes that means educating ourselves on common conditions like pleurisy.

Also known as pleuritis, pleurisy causes inflammation of the pleura, the thin, sheet-like membrane layers that surround the lungs. It’s often characterized by sharp chest pain, which can be concerning and uncomfortable. Understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment options for pleurisy is essential for finding relief and keeping your lungs healthy.

What Causes Pleurisy?

Most often, pleurisy results from viral and bacterial infections like pneumonia and the flu. Other infectious causes of pleurisy include Epstein-Barr virus EBV), skin infections, food poisoning and sepsis.

Autoimmune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can also lead to pleurisy. In these instances, your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy lung tissue. Other diseases, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, HIV or AIDS, or sickle cell anemia, can cause pleuritis.

Additionally, chest trauma, such as bruised or fractured ribs, can cause the pleura to become inflamed.

Symptoms You May Experience

The most common symptom of pleurisy is sharp chest pain when breathing deeply. The pain may also radiate to your shoulder. You may notice your pain worsens when you sneeze, cough or are active, and you might feel mild relief when you take shallow breaths. You may also have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and a dry cough.

Most importantly, remember that chest pain and difficulty breathing — whether caused by pleurisy or another condition — are medical emergencies that always warrant immediate care. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately to be taken to your closest AdventHealth emergency room.

For non-emergency symptoms of pleurisy, stay on the safe side and contact your primary care provider or a pulmonary specialist. Your provider will listen to your chest and may order diagnostic tests, including blood work and a chest X-ray, ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan, to determine if you have an autoimmune disease or an infection.

Pleurisy Treatment Options

Treating your condition will depend on the underlying cause of your symptoms. If your pleurisy is due to a viral infection, it will usually resolve on its own after a few days without additional treatment. Pleurisy resulting from a bacterial infection, however, will require antibiotics. If your symptoms are severe, your physician may admit you into the hospital until your condition stabilizes and you’re in better health.

Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate any chest pain you may be experiencing. Typically, your provider may recommend ibuprofen or acetaminophen.However, they may prescribe stronger pain medications such as codeine if your body is not responding to the other medication.

If your pleurisy is related to an autoimmune condition, treatment may involve medications to manage your underlying condition better.

When treated promptly, pleurisy typically won’t result in any lasting lung damage.

During recovery, rest is especially important. Avoid activities that worsen your symptoms to help encourage the pleura to heal. You may experience some pain relief by applying heat or cold packs, or lying down on the side of your chest that hurts.

Expert Lung Care Is Always Here for You

If you’re experiencing symptoms or think you might have pleurisy, rest assured that the care you need is close by at AdventHealth. Our experienced pulmonologists and other lung health specialists offer comprehensive pulmonary care for pleurisy and many other common and complex lung conditions.

You can count on us to examine your symptoms, listen to your concerns, deliver an accurate diagnosis and create a personalized treatment plan that helps you feel whole again. We’ll be here at every step to support you as you heal.

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