Pleurisy is swelling (inflammation) of the thin layers of tissue (pleura) covering the lungs and the chest wall. In young, healthy people, a viral infection of the lower respiratory system or pneumonia may cause the inflammation and pleurisy.

Other causes of pleurisy include air leaking into the pleural cavity from a hole in a lung (pneumothorax), injury to the chest (such as a broken rib), tuberculosis or other infections, or a tumor in the pleura. Pleurisy caused by a virus usually lasts a few days to 2 weeks.

Common symptoms of pleurisy include:

  • Stabbing chest pain that starts fairly suddenly. Pain may increase when the person breathes in. A person with pleurisy may try to avoid severe pain by not breathing in deeply. This may cause rapid, shallow breathing. Pain may spread to a shoulder or the belly.
  • Coughing.
  • Fever.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, including acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Motrin and Advil), may help relieve the pain caused by pleurisy and may reduce fever. Treatment of pleurisy depends on the cause.

Current as of: September 9, 2014

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Robert L. Cowie, MB, FCP(SA), MD, MSc, MFOM - Pulmonology