The pleura is a membrane. It lines the outside of the lungs and the inside of the chest. Pleurisy is swelling of the pleura.

Pleura of the Lungs

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It may be caused by:

  • A viral infection, such as influenza and cold viruses
  • Lung infections from bacteria, such as tuberculosis or parasites like amebiasis
  • Pleural effusions
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Problems with the immune system, such as lupus
  • A collapsed lung
  • Cancer in the lung
  • Heart disease
  • Familial Mediterranean fever

Risk Factors

Things that raise your risk are:


You may have:

  • Sharp, stabbing pain in the side and lower part of the chest
  • Pain along the shoulders, neck, and belly
  • Pain when you move your chest, such as breathing and coughing
  • A dry cough
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid and shallow breathing


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The pain may be enough to make the diagnosis. The doctor will listen to your chest. The next step is find out what caused this.

Pictures may be taken of your chest. This can be done with:

You may also have:

  • Blood test
  • Fluid analysis after thoracentesis—removal of lung fluid with a needle
  • Biopsy of the pleura with video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS)

Your heart's activity may be tested. This can be done with an ECG.


Treatment will depend on the cause. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. You may need:

Pain relievers can help ease pain and swelling. Some people can lower their pain by lying on the painful side, holding a pillow tightly, or wrapping the chest with elastic bandages. Codeine-based cough syrup may be used to treat a painful cough.

If you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be given. If you have a virus, it will get better on its own. If you have a problem with your immune system, then steroids will relieve pain. Other causes may be treated with surgery.


Take these steps to prevent pleurisy:

  • Get care right away for health problems that can cause pleurisy.
  • Ask your doctor for the flu shot. Ask if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you. It may be helpful if you are an older adult, have a chronic illness, or have problems with your immune system.