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Pleurisy is a condition characterized by inflammation of the pleura, the thin membranes that line the chest cavity and surround the lungs. It can cause intense chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, fever, chills, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and fatigue. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for pleurisy is essential for managing this condition effectively.

Chest Pain: A Distinctive Symptom

One of the most prominent symptoms of pleurisy is chest pain. The pain is often sharp and worsens with deep breathing, coughing, or sneezing. It occurs due to the inflammation of the pleura, which can cause the layers to rub against each other. The pain may be localized to a specific area or spread across the chest.

Shortness of Breath: A Consequence of Inflammation

Shortness of breath is another common symptom of pleurisy. The inflammation of the pleura can restrict the expansion of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe deeply. Individuals with pleurisy may experience a sense of breathlessness, even with minimal physical exertion.

Cough: A Persistent Companion

A persistent cough is often present in individuals with pleurisy. The cough may be dry or accompanied by the production of sputum. It occurs due to the irritation of the pleura and can worsen the chest pain.

Fever and Chills: Indicators of Infection

Fever and chills are common symptoms of pleurisy, particularly when it is caused by an infection. The body’s immune response to the infection can lead to an elevated body temperature and the sensation of chills.

Rapid Breathing and Rapid Heartbeat: Signs of Respiratory Distress

Pleurisy can cause rapid breathing and a rapid heartbeat. The inflammation of the pleura can disrupt the normal respiratory function, leading to an increased respiratory rate and heart rate. These symptoms indicate respiratory distress and should be promptly evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Sweating and Fatigue: Exhaustion as a Result of Inflammation

Excessive sweating and fatigue are often experienced by individuals with pleurisy. The body’s response to inflammation can lead to increased sweating, while the effort required to breathe due to restricted lung function can cause fatigue.

Treatment Options for Pleurisy

While pleurisy can be a painful and uncomfortable condition, it is often treatable. The specific treatment approach depends on the underlying cause of the inflammation. Here are some common treatment options:


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation associated with pleurisy. These medications can help alleviate chest pain and improve overall comfort. In cases where pleurisy is caused by an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to target the underlying bacteria or virus.

Rest and Fluids

Resting and staying hydrated are essential for supporting the body’s healing process. Adequate rest allows the body to recover, while staying hydrated helps thin the mucus and reduce coughing.


In some cases, a procedure called thoracentesis may be performed to drain excess fluid from the pleural space. This can help relieve symptoms and improve breathing.

Treating the Underlying Cause

If pleurisy is caused by an underlying condition, such as pneumonia or autoimmune disorders, treating the root cause is crucial for managing the symptoms. This may involve additional medications or therapies targeted at the specific condition.

Prevention and Self-Care Tips

While it may not always be possible to prevent pleurisy, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk and manage the condition:

  • Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, as it can increase the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Practice good hygiene, such as regular handwashing, to minimize the spread of infections.
  • Stay up to date with vaccinations, particularly for respiratory illnesses like influenza and pneumonia.
  • Seek prompt medical attention for respiratory infections to prevent complications.
  • Follow the prescribed treatment plan and take medications as directed by healthcare professionals.
  • Engage in activities that promote lung health, such as regular exercise and deep breathing exercises.

By adopting these preventive measures and following the recommended treatment plan, individuals can effectively manage pleurisy and minimize its impact on their daily lives.

In conclusion, pleurisy is a condition characterized by inflammation of the pleura, resulting in symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, fever, chills, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and fatigue. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential for managing this condition effectively. Medications, rest, thoracentesis, and treating the underlying cause are common treatment options. By practicing preventive measures and self-care tips, individuals can reduce their risk of developing pleurisy and improve their overall lung health.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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