What Causes Pleurisy?


Pleurisy, also known as pleuritis, is an inflammation of the pleura, which is the double-layered membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest cavity. Pleurisy can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Infections: The most common cause of pleurisy is an infection, often viral or bacterial, that affects the pleura. These infections can include pneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchitis, or viral respiratory infections like the flu.
  • Viral Infections: Viruses like the influenza virus (the flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cause pleurisy as part of their respiratory symptoms.
  • Bacterial Infections: Bacterial infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis can lead to pleurisy when the infection spreads to the pleura.
  • Autoimmune Conditions: Autoimmune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can cause inflammation in various parts of the body, including the pleura.
  • Chest Injuries: Trauma or injury to the chest, such as a rib fracture, can lead to pleurisy. The inflamed pleura can rub against the chest wall during breathing, causing pain.
  • Pulmonary Embolism: A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels to the lungs. It can cause pleuritic chest pain and inflammation.
  • Cancer: Certain cancers, particularly lung cancer, can spread to the pleura and cause inflammation.
  • Other Medical Conditions: Pleurisy can be associated with medical conditions like sarcoidosis, pancreatitis, or asbestos-related diseases.

The hallmark symptom of pleurisy is sharp, stabbing chest pain that worsens with breathing or coughing. The pain is typically localized to one side of the chest and may radiate to the shoulder or upper back. Other common symptoms can include a dry cough, shallow breathing to minimize pain, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, pleurisy may lead to the accumulation of pleural fluid (pleural effusion), which can cause additional symptoms like shortness of breath.

The treatment of pleurisy depends on the underlying cause. In cases of viral pleurisy, rest, pain relievers, and addressing the viral infection are typically recommended. For bacterial infections, antibiotics may be necessary. Autoimmune conditions may require medications to manage inflammation, and cancers may involve treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

If you suspect you have pleurisy or experience severe chest pain or difficulty breathing, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare provider can perform a physical examination, order diagnostic tests (such as chest X-rays or CT scans), and determine the underlying cause of your symptoms to provide appropriate treatment.

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