The lungs are a delicate organ that control the intake of oxygen by the body. Inside the lungs and throughout the chest cavity, a membranous lining called the pleura helps protect this vital organ from harm. Pleural disease can take many forms, and may be easily treatable or potentially fatal. Understanding the risks and signs of different types of pleural disease can help people evaluate their risk level and be prepared to act quickly in case of an emergency or developing illness.
Pleural effusion is one of the most common signs of pleural disease. This condition occurs when fluid, such as blood or other bodily liquids, begins to fill the lungs. Pleural effusion can quickly cause breathing trouble as well as numbness or temporary paralysis on the affected side of the body. While cause for concern in itself, pleural effusion is typically a symptom of another condition.
There are two types of pleural effusion. Exudate effusion occurs as a result of a related pleural disease, such as a bacterial or viral infection, cancer, or asbestosis. Transudative effusions tend to be caused by an systematic failure that is affecting the lungs, often a heart problem. Congenital heart failure, or liver failures such as cirrhosis are common causes of transudate pleural effusion.
An infection in the lungs can lead to a pleural disease known as pleurisy. Caused by pneumonia, viral and fungal infections, and other forms of lung disease, pleurisy is the result of an inflammation in the membranous tissue that causes pain when breathing. Patients with pleurisy are often treated with anti-inflammatory drugs as well as medication to treat the underlying condition or infection.
Some lung cancers primarily attack the pleura, and are often classified as a pleural disease. Infants and children are sometimes affected by malignant tumor called pleuropulmonary blastoma. This recently discovered cancer often presents as consistent coughing and respiratory problems. Adults are more commonly subject to other forms of cancer-related pleural disease, such as malignant mesothelioma. These tumors are often associated with exposure to asbestos, and is sometimes treatable through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Pleural disease in all forms is potential dangerous and often painful. Most conditions are characterized by chest pain when breathing, as well as shortness of breath or frequent coughing. A person experiencing any of these symptoms may want to seek medical help as soon as possible. Since many forms of pleural disease are caused by untreated infections and illnesses, it is in the interest of the patient to deal with even minor illnesses promptly.