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What Is Pleuritis?

A doctor may use a stethoscope to detect pleuritis.
The human respiratory system. Pleuritis is an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the lungs.
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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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Pleuritis, also called pleurisy, is a medical condition characterized by inflammation of the pleura. The pleura is a membrane that encompasses the lungs and lines the chest cavity. This condition often occurs as a complication of other medical issues, such as pneumonia, autoimmune diseases and a variety of viral and bacterial infections.

Some conditions that may lead to pleuritis include influenza or other acute viral infections. Pneumonia that affects the pleura's surface may also cause it. Other possible conditions include tuberculosis and autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and autoimmune hepatitis. Some patients develop it as a result of a pulmonary embolism, which is a clot in one of the lung's arteries.

Pleuritis causes a sharp pain in the patient's chest during inhalation or exhalation. Pain also occurs during coughing, which is a common symptom of the condition. Other common symptoms of pleuritis include shortness of breath, fever, and chills. If fluid accumulates within the chest cavity, patients may also experience cyanosis, which is a blue skin color. They may also suffer from tachypnea, or rapid breathing.

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If a doctor suspects that a patient may have pleuritis, he will typically begin the diagnostic process by listening to the patient's breathing with a stethoscope. To confirm the condition, the doctor may order medical tests. Some tests used to diagnose pleuritis include a blood test, an x-ray of the chest, and thoracentesis. Thoracentesis is a simple procedure in which the doctor draws fluid from the chest cavity area. The fluid can then be tested to determine the underlying cause of the condition.

Treatment for pleuritis will depend on the specific cause of the condition. If a bacterial infection is to blame, the doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics, however, so in this case, the virus may simply need to run its course.

A doctor may, however, recommend some medications to help alleviate symptoms. Patients may consider taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen. If the patient suffers from severe coughing and pain, the doctor may prescribe codeine to control these symptoms. Patients may also be advised to consume fluids, such as water or hot tea. They should also avoid heavy lifting and get plenty of rest.

In some cases, pleuritis may cause an excessive accumulation of fluid. For patients with this condition, the doctor will likely recommend a hospital stay. It may take several days to fully drain the fluid from the chest cavity. Drainage is accomplished with a drainage tube inserted into the chest.

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