Pleurisy, or pleuritis, is a condition that affects the lining of your lungs. Usually, this lining lubricates the surfaces between your chest wall and your lungs. When you have pleurisy, this lining becomes inflamed.
Pleurisy can occur with pleural effusion, which is when fluid builds up in the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity includes the thin layer of tissue covering the lungs and lining the interior of your chest cavity.
Pleurisy may cause a stabbing chest or shoulder pain when you breathe. This pain may be worse when you cough, sneeze, or move.
How long it lasts may depend on:
- the underlying cause
- time of diagnosis
- the method used to treat your pleurisy
Sometimes pleurisy resolves without any treatment at all, and sometimes complications develop even with treatment. Keep reading to find out what to expect if you have pleurisy.
Pleurisy can occur as a complication of a viral infection or bronchitis.
Other common causes include:
- other viral infections that spread to the lung’s lining
- advanced bacterial pneumonia
- chest wounds, injuries, rib fractures, or lung trauma
- blood clots
- recovery from heart surgery
- sickle cell anemia
- lung tumors
- chronic conditions such as lupus
Pleurisy can also occur if you have pleural effusion. Other health conditions may cause pleural effusion. These may include:
- conditions affecting the heart, such as congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, or complications from open heart surgery
- kidney disease
- liver cirrhosis
- lung or breast cancer
How long pleurisy lasts can depend on what’s causing your condition and whether you’re diagnosed early.
There’s no definitive way to tell how long your pleurisy will last unless you know what’s causing it.
Pleurisy that’s caused by airway inflammation, including bronchitis, bronchiolitis, or pathogens like viruses, can resolve on its own, without treatment. Pain medication and rest can help relieve symptoms of pleurisy while the lining of your lungs heals. This can take up to two weeks in most cases.
It’s important to get medical care if you think you have pleurisy. Untreated pleurisy can lead to serious complications if you’re not supervised by a medical professional.
Pleural effusion tends to occur with pleurisy. If you experience pleural effusion (water on the lung), it may require surgical drainage to improve your condition.
Bacterial infection or pneumonia
Pleurisy that’s caused by a bacterial infection or pneumonia typically resolves following a course of antibiotics.
If you develop pleurisy and pleural effusion, it can take up to a month or even longer for symptoms to resolve. A healthcare professional may recommend drainage.
Blood clots, or embolisms, that cause pleurisy are treated with a course of blood-thinning medication. After the embolism dissolves, your pleurisy should heal quickly.
Untreated embolisms may be dangerous and potentially life threatening. Pleurisy may continue until the embolism is addressed. Some people need to continue this kind of medication indefinitely to prevent more embolisms.
Specialists may treat lung tumors with chemotherapy or radiation before pleurisy resolves. You may need to have the fluid in your lungs drained in the meantime to keep your lungs functioning the way they need to. Your pleurisy symptoms may come back after drainage.
Pleurisy that’s caused by chest wounds or blunt trauma to your rib cage typically goes away once your injuries heal. Sometimes a pleural effusion happens as a result of these injuries. If that’s the case, this fluid may need to be drained before your pleurisy symptoms go away.
Healthcare professionals sometimes recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat pleurisy that’s caused by lupus.
You may need other medications that suppress the immune system to control the inflammation of your lung’s lining until pleurisy heals.
If you have pleurisy, the best thing you can do for your body is to rest. A doctor may tell you to rest at home while you wait for your pleurisy to resolve.
With a doctor’s prescription, you can try a codeine-based cough syrup to reduce coughing and help you sleep while your pleurisy heals.
Other ways to help you heal faster or more comfortably can include:
- breathing deeply to clear out the mucus that might otherwise become trapped in your lungs
- taking over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) to suppress pain and inflammation
- lying on the side of your body that’s most painful can compress your lung lining and make you feel more comfortable
If you have a stabbing pain in your lungs when you breathe or cough, seek medical care right away.
Pleurisy should be identified and treated as soon as possible. Since the underlying cause of pleurisy can be quite serious, you need to understand why you’re having these symptoms. While a sharp pain or dull ache settled around your lungs can indicate pleurisy, it can also be a symptom of other serious health conditions.
Schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as you can if you experience any of the following:
- chest pain that worsens when you cough or sneeze
- shortness of breath that leaves you dizzy or disoriented
- a feeling of pressure on your ribcage or lungs
- sharp pain on only one side of your chest
If the condition that causes pleurisy is found and treated, many people with pleurisy can expect a full recovery.
Left untreated, or if you have a chronic condition that causes pleurisy, your symptoms may go away and come back several times. The best course of action is to see a medical professional who can diagnose your pleurisy and give you a recommendation based on your health history.
Pleurisy causes the lining of your lungs to become inflamed. This can cause pain when you breathe.
Pleurisy typically occurs due to an underlying condition, whether a viral or bacterial infection or another health condition, such as blood clots or lupus.
Treatment involves relieving symptoms while treating the underlying condition. Sometimes procedures may help drain excess fluid or air from the lungs.