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Pleurisy And Pleural Effusion

December 19, 2018

What Is It?

Pleurisy means inflammation of the pleura, the membrane that lines the lungs within the chest cavity. Depending on its cause, pleurisy can be associated with an accumulation of fluid in the space between the lungs and chest wall (called a pleural effusion) or it can be dry pleurisy, which has no fluid accumulation.  

Pleurisy can develop many ways, including: 

  • Lung infection — In industrialized nations, bacterial pneumonia (lung infection) resulting from staphylococci, pneumococci, Haemophilus influenzae or other organisms is a frequent cause of pleurisy. In developing nations where tuberculosis is common, pulmonary tuberculosis is another important cause. When pleurisy is caused by a bacterial lung infection, it can be associated with a pus-filled pleural effusion (called an empyema). Viral lung infections, especially epidemic pleurodynia (an infection usually caused by coxsackieviruses or echoviruses), also can cause pleurisy.  
  • Pulmonary embolism — A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that has floated through the bloodstream and lodged in the lungs. In people with pulmonary embolism, symptoms of pleurisy tend to occur when the pulmonary embolism is fairly small and has lodged in a part of the lungs near the pleura.  
  • Lung cancer — Pleurisy can develop in people with lung cancer. When pleurisy occurs because of lung cancer, a bloody pleural effusion is common.  
  • Connective tissue disorders — Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) and other connective tissue disorders can cause inflammation of the pleura.  
  • Rare causes — Radiation therapy (for cancer), a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) and pericarditis (as with severe kidney failure or following a heart attack) all can be accompanied by pleurisy. 
  • No identifiable cause — Pleurisy can develop for no clear reason despite extensive investigation. These cases are rare, and usually are presumed to be caused by a viral infection. 

Symptoms

Pleurisy typically causes a sharp chest pain (pleuritic chest pain) that worsens with breathing in or coughing. The pain may start and remain in one specific area of the chest wall, or it may spread to the shoulder or back. To ease chest pain from pleurisy, a person with pleurisy often lies on the affected side as a way of limiting movement of the chest wall. In rare cases, the chest pain of pleurisy is a fairly constant, dull ache.  

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