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Pleurisy Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on November 30, 2009

The inside of the chest cavity is lined with a smooth, slippery, shiny membrane called the pleura. As the lung contracts and expands with breathing, it slides across the pleura, which is covered with a very thin layer of fluid that acts as a lubricant. If the pleura becomes inflamed or infected, the patient has pleurisy or pleuritis.

Pleurisy causes severe pain that can often be localized to one point on the chest or back and that is worse with breathing, sneezing, coughing, laughing or any movement of the chest. Pleurisy is quite common in association with viral infections of the chest, and will settle with rest and minor pain-killers or anti-inflammatory medication. Other common causes of pleurisy include a fractured rib that damages the pleura, and bacterial infections associated with pneumonia which will require the use of antibiotics and stronger pain-killers.

A pleural effusion occurs when a large amount of fluid is found between the pleura and lung. The fluid can restrict the movement of the lung, and may cause significant shortness of breath and a dry cough. There are many causes for pleural effusions, including heart failure, cirrhosis, nephrotic syndrome, lung embolus, cancer, tuberculosis and other infections. The excess fluid can be readily seen on a chest X-ray, and in some cases the fluid can be removed by putting a needle through the chest wall and into the fluid collection, then drawing it off into a syringe. The fluid may be examined to determine the type of the disease present. Further treatment will depend upon the cause of the effusion

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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