Pleurisy (also called 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.
This condition can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. The most common symptom of pleurisy is a stabbing pain when you breathe.
The underlying cause, time of diagnosis, and the method used to treat your pleurisy impacts how long the condition lasts. 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 is the result of a bad case of a viral infection, like 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
The duration of pleurisy really depends on what’s causing your condition and if you’re diagnosed early. There’s no definitive way to tell how long your pleurisy will last, unless you find out what’s causing it.
Pleurisy that’s caused by bronchitis or another viral infection 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. Making sure the cause is a viral infection, and getting treatment suggestions from a doctor, is critical. Untreated pleurisy can lead to serious complications if you’re not supervised by a medical professional.
Bacterial infection or pneumonia
Pleurisy that’s caused by a bacterial infection or pneumonia can be resolved with a course of antibiotics. Once you start antibiotics, your symptoms should resolve within a week. It may take up to two weeks for symptoms to fully disappear.
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 are very dangerous and your pleurisy may continue until they’re addressed. Some people need to continue this kind of medication indefinitely to prevent more embolisms.
Lung tumors may need to be treated 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.
Pleurisy that’s caused by chest wounds or blunt trauma to your rib cage should go away once your injuries heal. Sometimes a pleural effusion (buildup of fluid) happens as a result of these injuries. This fluid may need to be drained before your pleurisy symptoms go away.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are sometimes used to treat pleurisy that’s caused by lupus. Other medications that suppress the immune system may be necessary to control the inflammation of your lung’s lining while pleurisy heals.
If you have pleurisy, the best thing you can do for your body is to rest. Your 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 include breathing deeply to clear out mucus that might otherwise become trapped in your lungs, and taking over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen 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 your 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, most 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.