Close this search box.


Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura. The pleura is a two layered membrane that both encloses the lung and lines the chest cavity.

People have two pleurae, one around each lung. The pleurae act as a protective wrapping, fitting snugly over your lungs. Pleurae are made up of two layers. Normally, there is no space between the inner and outer layer. The layers are joined at the edges, so that the pleura might be compared to a balloon with no air, completely empty of air and wrapped tightly around the outside of each of the lungs.

Normally, there is nothing but a thin lubricating layer of fluid between the inner pleural lining and the outer pleural lining. The smooth pleura linings and lubricating fluid allow your lungs to move freely in your chest, as they do in normal breathing.

In people with pleurisy, the two layers of pleura get inflamed (red and swollen). This can create a space between the layers called the pleural cavity (cavity means space). In wet pleurisy, this space can fill up with fluid that can get infected.

Pleurisy can arise from different causes and take different ways to develop, sometimes with excess fluid in the pleural cavity (“wet pleurisy”) and sometimes without (“dry pleurisy”), sometimes accompanied by no pain sometimes very painful. The most common cause of pleurisy is viral infection such as the flu or pneumonia.

There are two kinds of pleurisy. A “primary” pleurisy is an inflammation that happens in the pleural tissues themselves, from a germ that attacked them directly, or from an injury or growth.

A “secondary” pleurisy is caused by another chest disease including:

  • pneumonia, in which the germs reach the pleura as well as the lungs themselves,
  • tuberculosis,
  • lung abscess
  • lung cancer
  • or almost anything wrong in the chest.

People with pleurisy may experience:

  • pain: sharp stabbing pain in the chest, the chest pain may get worse when you breathe in deeply, cough or sneeze
  • shallow and difficult breathing
  • dry coughing
  • weakness
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • chills
  • fever
  • rapid heartbeat

These symptoms could be caused by pleurisy, or they could be caused by another disease. If you have these symptoms, or if you think you have pleurisy, see your healthcare provider right away.

Pleurisy is treated with medicines, surgery and other methods to lesson symptoms and to treat the cause. It is important to see a doctor if you think you have pleurisy.

If the pleurisy is caused be a specific lung disease, it is important to treat that lung disease.

Relieving symptoms

To limit the pain of pleurisy, limiting the movement of the lungs may be recommended by your healthcare provider.

The healthcare provider may suggest lying on the sore side in a special way. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medication for the pain.

Removing the air, liquid or blood from the pleural space

Your healthcare provider may decide to remove the fluid trapped between the two pleural cavities by drawing it out with a needle.

If there is a lot of blood, air or fluid your healthcare provider may also put in a chest tube to remove the blood, air or fluids. This tube may be left in for a number of days.