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What is Pleurisy?

Pleurisy, sometimes referred to as pleuritis, is inflammation of the lining of the chest cavity and the outside of the lungs. This double lining is called the pleura. Pleurisy can cause significant chest pain when breathing or coughing. The pain is usually described as being sharp. The pain usually stops between breaths and may be felt as referred pain to the shoulders. Other symptoms may accompany pleurisy, such as cough, shortness of breath, fever if you have an infection and appetite loss. In some cases, fluid may build up around the lungs due to the inflammation and cause additional problems. This buildup of fluid around the lungs is called a pleural effusion.

Pleurisy can be a side effect of a variety of respiratory infections. Viral infections, such as the flu or viral pneumonia, can sometimes cause pleurisy. Bacterial infections that cause pneumonia can also cause pleurisy. Pleurisy can also result from trauma around the lungs and problems such as a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot of the lungs. If you have open heart surgery, sometimes pleurisy will result as a complication. Pleurisy is not typically a sign of lung cancer or smoking-related lung damage; it is much more common as a result of lower respiratory infections.

In order to treat pleurisy, the cause of the condition has to be determined. A doctor might run a chest X-ray, CT scan or ultrasound to look at the condition of your lungs. Other procedures, such as analysis of the fluid in your lungs, a biopsy of lung tissue or exploratory lung surgery might be recommended if certain causes of pleurisy are suspected.

Treatment of pleurisy varies depending on the cause of the condition. Bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia, can be treated with antibiotics. Pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may be recommended for painful cases of pleurisy. If someone has a buildup of fluid around the lungs, they may have to have treatment in the hospital to drain the fluid and relieve the pressure that is preventing them from breathing easily.