Pleurisy (PLOOR-ih-see) is a condition in which the pleura — a membrane consisting of a layer of tissue that lines the inner side of the chest cavity and a layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs — becomes inflamed. Also called pleuritis, pleurisy causes sharp chest pain (pleuritic pain) that worsens during breathing.
A variety of underlying conditions can cause pleurisy. Treatment of pleurisy involves pain control and treating the underlying condition.
The signs and symptoms of pleurisy might include:
Chest pain that worsens when you breathe, cough or sneeze
Shortness of breath — because you are trying to minimize breathing in and out
A cough — only in some cases
A fever — only in some cases
Pain caused by pleurisy also might affect your shoulders or back.
In some cases of pleurisy, fluid builds up in the small space between the two layers of tissue (pleural space). This is called pleural effusion. When there is a fair amount of fluid, pleuritic pain lessens or disappears because the two layers of pleura are no longer in contact. A large amount of fluid in the pleural space can create pressure, compressing your lung to the point that it partially or completely collapses. This makes breathing difficult and might cause you to cough. The extra fluid can also become infected. This is called an empyema. An empyema is often accompanied by fever.
Pleurisy occurs when the pleura becomes irritated and inflamed. As a result, the two layers of the pleural membrane rub against each other like two pieces of sandpaper, producing pain when you inhale and exhale. The pleuritic pain lessens or stops when you hold your breath.
Causes of pleurisy include:
A viral infection, such as the flu (influenza)
A bacterial infection, such as pneumonia
A fungal infection
Autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis
Lung cancer near the pleural surface
Certain inherited diseases, such as sickle cell disease.