Pleurisy 

Introduction 

Who is affected?

In England during 2011-12, there were almost 2,000 hospital admissions as a result of pleurisy. However, the total number of cases is likely to be significantly higher as people with pleurisy often do not seek treatment.

Pleurisy can affect people of all ages, but older people who are 65 years of age or over are most at risk because they are more likely to develop a chest infection.

Pleurisy is a condition in which the layer covering the lungs, called the pleura, becomes inflamed. It is sometimes called pleuritis.

The most common symptom of pleurisy is a sharp chest pain that feels worse with breathing.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath and a dry cough.

Read more about the symptoms of pleurisy.

When to see your GP

You should visit your GP if you have chest pain that does not improve or gets worse after three to five days.

However, if your chest pain is accompanied by a high temperature, coughing up phlegm or blood, or breathing difficulties, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Your GP can listen to your chest to check for the distinctive dry, crunching sound that suggests you may have pleurisy. 

Read more about diagnosing pleurisy.

What causes pleurisy?

Pleurisy is usually caused by another condition. In most cases it's the result of a viral infection (such as the flu) or a bacterial infection (such as pneumonia).

In rarer cases, pleurisy can be caused by conditions such as a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood into the lungs (a pulmonary embolism) and lung cancer.

Read more about the causes of pleurisy.

How is pleurisy treated?

Treatment for pleurisy will depend on the underlying cause. For example, pleurisy that is caused by a viral infection will often resolve without needing treatment.

However, pleurisy caused by a bacterial infection will usually need to be treated with antibiotics, and people who are frail or already in poor health may be admitted to hospital.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are often used to relieve the chest pain associated with pleurisy.

In some cases of pleurisy, the pleura can become filled with too much fluid. If this happens, it may be necessary to drain the fluid to prevent breathing difficulties.

Read more about treating pleurisy.

Page last reviewed: 11/02/2013

Next review due: 11/02/2015

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