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Categories > Breathing Disorders > Pleurisy

Why every breath you take hurts

You may not think much about your pleura. However, when your pleura becomes inflamed, you’ll know something’s wrong. A sharp pain when breathing in and out, made worse by coughing, sneezing and moving, is a sign you may have pleurisy.

Your pleura is the two-layer membrane that lines your chest cavity and encloses your lungs. Its inflammation is actually a complication of an underlying condition, which may include:

  • an infection, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis
  • a virus, such as the flu
  • an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • inflammation of the pancreas
  • a blood clot in your lungs
  • trauma to the chest
  • cancer of the lung or pleura

Along with chest pain, you may also have a dry cough, shortness of breath, fever and chills or a buildup of fluid in your chest.

Diagnosing and treating pleurisy

During a chest exam, your doctor will listen for a “friction rub”—a crunching sound when the pleura rub up against each other. A blood test and imaging methods may be performed to determine if your lungs are infected. The cause will determine your treatment. If you have bacterial pneumonia, for example, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics.

Your doctor will also recommend medications to control your cough, ease your pain and reduce inflammation. If a significant amount of fluid is in your lungs, you may need to have the fluid drained.