Pleurisy or pleuritis, as it is often referred to, is an inflammation of the pleura which is a double-layered membrane that lines the chest cavity and covers each one of the lungs. The function of the pleural membranes is to facilitate the lungs with the essential process of expanding and contracting as part of the inhaling and exhaling which occurs during breathing.
The pleura accomplish their essential and live sustaining task when one of its silky smooth layers gently glides over the surface of the other. Under normal and healthy circumstances, such gliding provides only the minutest of frictions and virtually no resistance — thus, breathing is easy and unhampered. When the pleural membranes become inflamed or pleuritic, the condition is called pleurisy and it is characterized by the membranes’ abrasive rubbing against each other and causing pain with every breath the affected person takes in and again when letting it out.
The Symptoms of Pleurisy
The pain which is experienced when the lungs expand during inhaling and again when they contract during exhaling is often very sharp or stabbing and tends to increase when deeper breathing is attempted as well as during sneezing, coughing and certain movements. Such pain is either confined to the site of the inflammation or it may extend into the shoulder and/or the back, where it may subside to a continual ache.
Other known symptoms of pleurisy are:
- Shortness of breath which usually also leads to a dry hacking cough.
- Rapid and shallow breathing.
- Fever and chills.
- Sore throat.
- Painful and swollen joints.
- Spontaneous weight loss.
Sometimes, excessive fluids build up between the pleuritic membranes and form enough lubrication to relieve the pain of pleurisy but this condition leads to another complication which is called pleural effusion which can then become infected and lead to empyema. Other complications of pleurisy are the amassing of air between the two layers of the pleura which is also known as pneumothorax or the collection of blood which is called hemothorax. Whether the unhealthful accumulation is fluid, air or blood; it can put undue pressure on the lungs and cause them to dysfunction.
Causes of Pleurisy
Pleurisy has a wide range of causes and, at times, they are impossible to identify. However, the most common among those which are identifiable are: viral infections such as the flu (influenza); fungal or parasitic infections; bacterial infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis; autoimmune diseases such as autoimmune hepatitis, systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis; any variety of the lung cancers; diseases of the lung such as sarcoidosis, asbestosis, lymphangioleiomyomatosis, and mesothelioma; blood clots within the blood vessels entering the lungs (pulmonary embolism); inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or other gastrointestinal disorders; familial Mediterranean fever; any invasive heart procedures such as surgeries; and traumas or injuries inflicted directly to the chest.
Treatments for Pleurisy
Since pleurisy is a complication of any number of causes, treating it involves treating the primary cause and relieving its symptoms. Such treatments may include pain killers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotic medications, cough syrups and codeine, chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments, as well as procedures to remove or drain accumulated fluids, air or blood.
To increase the patients comfort, it has been found that applying pressure to the painful area eases the pain and thus lying on the painful side is recommended. To avoid further complications, it is advisable that pleurisy patients get plenty of rest and attempt to cough up as much of the mucus as they can.