Treating pleurisy 

Treatment for pleurisy usually involves relieving pain and treating the underlying cause of the condition.

If treated promptly, pleurisy often resolves without any lasting damage to the lungs.

Treating pain

The chest pain associated with pleurisy can be treated using a type of painkiller known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Most often, ibuprofen is used.

If NSAIDs are ineffective or unsuitable, you may be prescribed another painkiller, such as paracetamol or codeine.

It may seem strange, but lying down on the side of your chest that hurts may also help to reduce the pain.

Treating the underlying cause

It may also be necessary to treat the underlying cause of your pleurisy.

If you have pleurisy caused by a bacterial infection, you'll need a course of antibiotics. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, this may be either tablets or injections. Combinations of different antibiotics are sometimes used.

However, if your pleurisy is caused by a viral infection, further treatment may not be required, as the infection usually resolves itself after a few days.

In cases where your symptoms are particularly severe or you're already in poor health, you may need to be admitted to hospital so your body’s functions can be supported until your condition stabilises.

Pleural effusion

In some cases, pleurisy causes a build-up of excess fluid around the lungs called pleural effusion.

Pleural effusion can result in shortness of breath that gets progressively worse. This is more likely in cases of pleurisy caused by pulmonary embolism or a bacterial infection.

If pleural effusion doesn't clear up as your pleurisy is treated, or if you're very short of breath, a tube will need to be inserted so the fluid can be drained away.

The tube may be inserted using either general anaesthetic (where you're asleep) or local anaesthetic (the area where the tube is inserted is numbed).

If a lot of fluid has to be drained away, you may need to stay in hospital for a few days.

Page last reviewed: 28/01/2015

Next review due: 28/01/2017