Authored by , Reviewed by Dr Colin Tidy | Last edited | Meets Patient’s editorial guidelines

Pleurisy is due to inflammation of the pleura next to the lung. It is most often caused by infection with a germ (a viral infection). In these cases the pain can be severe but soon goes. Various other lung disorders can also cause a 'pleuritic pain' similar to pleurisy. A pleuritic pain is a chest pain which is typically sharp and 'stabbing' in a part of the chest. The pain is usually made worse when you breathe in or cough.

Pleurisy means inflammation of the pleura. Pleurisy, or other problems that affect the pleura, can cause a 'pleuritic' chest pain. This is usually a sharp stabbing pain.

You may feel a pleuritic chest pain anywhere in the chest, depending on the site of the inflammation, or problem with the pleura. The pain is made worse by breathing in or by coughing, as this causes the two parts of the inflamed pleura to rub over each other.

You may have other symptoms, depending on the cause of the pleurisy.

What is the pleura?

Lungs and airways with pleura

The pleura is a thin membrane with two layers. One layer lines the inside of the chest wall. The other layer covers the lungs.

Between the two layers of pleura (the pleural cavity) is a tiny amount of fluid. This helps the lungs and chest wall to move smoothly when you breathe.

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Causes of pleurisy include:

If the inflammation of your pleura is caused by a more serious cause you are likely to have other symptoms. See a doctor if any of the following occur with a pleuritic chest pain:

The most important thing when diagnosing the cause of a pleuritic pain is for a doctor to talk to you about your symptoms and to examine you. Most of the causes of the more serious causes of pleuritic pain will have other symptoms apart from the pain, as mentioned above. A doctor's examination may also show up some signs which may point to the cause.

A doctor may arrange tests such as a chest X-ray if you develop pleuritic pain and the cause is not clear. A chest X-ray is normal in the common infection with a germ (a viral pleurisy) but may show up abnormalities when there are some other causes of the pain. Other tests are sometimes done if a serious cause is suspected.

If you have an infection with a germ (a viral pleurisy), take painkillers regularly until the pain eases. Your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers if the pain is severe.

If you have other causes of pleuritic pain, such as a serious lung infection (pneumonia) or a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), the treatment depends on the cause.

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Further reading and references