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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:





Pleurisy is swelling of the two layers of tissue (pleura) around the lungs. The inner layer is attached to the lungs. The outer layer is attached to the chest wall. It can cause chest pain and make it hard to breathe.

Pleura of the Lungs.

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Causes may be:

  • A viral infection, such as influenza
  • Lung infections from bacteria, such as tuberculosis or parasites like amebiasis
  • Pleural effusions—fluid build up in pleura
  • Pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that travels to the lungs
  • Problems with the immune system, such as lupus
  • A collapsed lung
  • Cancer in the lung
  • Heart disease
  • Familial Mediterranean fever

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:


Problems may be:

  • 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


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A diagnosis may be made based on the pain. Tests may be done to look for a cause.

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

Other tests may be:

  • Blood tests
  • Thoracentesis to remove and test fluid from the pleural space
  • Biopsy to remove and test a sample of pleura


The cause will need to be treated. This may include medicine or surgery.


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem. Managing the conditions that may cause it can help.





  • Pleural effusion. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/mediastinal-and-pleural-disorders/pleural-effusion. Accessed December 31, 2020.
  • Pleurisy. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at: http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Pleurisy.aspx. Accessed December 31, 2020.
  • Pleuritis—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/pleuritis-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed December 31, 2020.
  • Reamy BV, Williams PM, et al. Pleuritic Chest Pain: Sorting Through the Differential Diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2017 Sep 1;96(5):306-312.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.