Definition Pleurisy is inflammation of the thin lining around the lungs.
What is going on in the body? A thin lining, known as the pleura, exists around the lungs. It allows for smooth, comfortable movement between the chest wall and the lungs as a person breathes. The pleura gets rough and stiff when it becomes inflamed. Because the lung expands and contracts while breathing, this inflammation makes breathing painful.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? Pain with breathing is the most common symptom of pleurisy. The pain in the chest is often described as "knifelike". Others describe the pain as an ache or a catch in the chest with breathing. The pain is intensified with each breath. The affected person often breathes very shallowly to reduce the pain of pleurisy. Shallow breathing for a prolonged period can result in collapse of parts of the lung, known as atelectasis. Simply moving the upper body sometimes worsens the pain of pleurisy. A person will often adopt a very still posture to avoid additional pain.
What can be done to prevent the condition? Prevention of pleurisy is often focused toward staying healthy. Preventing pneumonia is very important. This can be accomplished by a one-time pneumonia vaccine, with a booster as recommended by the doctor. Many cases of the flu can be avoided with an annual influenza vaccine, or flu injection. Proper control of illnesses known to cause pleurisy is also important. Prevention of cigarette smoking is one important way to ensure healthy lungs.
How is the condition diagnosed? Pleurisy is diagnosed by history and physical examination. The classic complaint is severe knifelike chest pain that gets worse with each breath. chest x-rays are often used to uncover causes of pleurisy. Blood tests are also used to diagnose pleurisy in some people.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? Single episodes of pleurisy, such as those caused by pneumonia, have no long term effects. Occasionally, people will suffer from scarring of the pleura. This results in abnormal breathing and constant pain. Adhesions can occur where the pleura attaches to the chest wall. If this problem is severe enough to affect lung function, surgery may be required.
What are the treatments for the condition? Treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation of the pleura. This is usually accomplished with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. Pain control is important. If the pain is not controlled, full deep breaths will not be possible. This can result in further complications, such as atelectasis and pneumonia. Often narcotic analgesia is necessary to control the pain of pleurisy.
What are the side effects of the treatments? All medications have side effects. The most common side effect from anti-inflammatory medication is stomach upset.
What happens after treatment for the condition? If there is no serious underlying disease, a person will return to a normal state of health following treatment. Diseases such as Tuberculosis need to be monitored on a long-term basis. Pleurisy can be a short-lived complication of these illnesses. Once the pleurisy is gone, the underlying disease may continue.
How is the condition monitored? Routine monitoring of the diseases that cause pleurisy is important. Episodes of pleurisy may be monitored with Chest x-rays and pulmonary function tests if indicated. These tests measure the functioning of the lungs and how much airflow is occurring as a person breathes. A return to normal lung function is the goal of treatment.
Author: Vincent J. Toups, MD Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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