Pleurisy (PLOOR-i-see) is an inflammation * of the membrane * that covers the lungs and lines the chest cavity. This lining is called the pleura (PLOOR-a).

What Is Pleurisy?

In pleurisy, the membrane covering the lungs and lining the chest cavity becomes inflamed, and excess fluids may build up in the space. When people who have pleurisy breathe in or cough, the inflammation causes pain, which is a result of friction from the inflamed pleura. The pain is a sharp, stabbing pain that begins suddenly. There are a number of different causes of pleurisy.

What Are the Symptoms of Pleurisy?

A sharp, knifelike pain when breathing in or coughing is the primary symptom of pleurisy. People who have pleurisy tend to breathe more frequently with smaller breaths to avoid pain. Ultimately, these small breaths can lead to pneumonia * .

What Causes Pleurisy?

* , sickle cell anemia * , or connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis * , or systemic lupus erythematosus * . Blood clots that travel to the lung (pulmonary emboli) can result in pleurisy, as can exposure to toxic substances such as asbestos. The result in all of these cases is inflammation of the pleura that causes pain when a person coughs or breathes, as well as a fluid accumulation (called a pleural effusion) between the layers of tissue that line the lung and the chest wall.

In the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (1911–1983), Laura tells her mother how a boy in her high school called her “Blue Roses.”

“Why did he call you such a name as that?” asks her mother, Amanda.

Laura explains that when she came back to school after she had an attack of “pleurosis,” the young man, Jim, asked her what had been the matter with her. She told him she had had pleurosis, and he mistook the word for “blue roses.” Thereafter, whenever Jim saw Laura, he would greet her with “Hello, Blue Roses!”

Unfortunately, it is easier to contract pleurisy than it is to find blue roses. In the play, though, Laura does recover from her pleurosis. Her problems are of a different nature. The title of the play refers to Laura's collection of glass animals.

How Is Pleurisy Diagnosed and Treated?

Physicians may diagnose pleurisy when they hear a “friction rub” when the patient breathes deeply. Doctors can use several different laboratory tests to help diagnose the condition. Fluid from pleural effusion can be removed with a needle and sent to the laboratory for analysis. Medicines can be given to help with the pain and inflammation. However, the underlying cause of pleurisy, such as bacterial pneumonia or tuberculosis (too-ber-kyoo-LO-sis), must be treated. If the pleural effusion is large, the fluid may need to be drained via a needle, or a chest tube may need to be inserted in order to evacuate (remove) the abnormal accumulation of fluid and improve breathing.

See also Bacterial Infections • Pneumonia • Tuberculosis


Books and Articles

Carlile, Suzanne. “Pleurisy: The Lung Condition That Mimics a Heart Attack.” Times Online. May 13, 2015. (accessed August 12, 2015).


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Are Pleurisy and Other Pleural Disorders?” (accessed November 11, 2015).

NHS Choices. “Pleurisy.” National Health Services. (accessed August 12, 2015).


American Academy of Family Physicians. PO Box 11210, Shawnee Mission, KS 66207-1210. Toll-free: 800-794-7481. Website: (accessed August 12, 2015).

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. PO Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. Telephone: 301-592-8573. Website: (accessed August 12, 2015).

* inflammation (in-fla-MAY-shun) is the body's reaction to irritation, infection, or injury that often involves swelling, pain, redness, and warmth.

* membrane (MEM-brain) is a thin layer of tissue that covers a surface, lines a cavity, or divides a space or organ.

* pneumonia (nu-MO-nyah) is inflammation of the lungs.

* cancer is a condition characterized by abnormal overgrowth of certain cells, which may be fatal.

* sickle cell anemia, also called sickle cell disease, is a hereditary condition in which the red blood cells, which are usually round, take on an abnormal crescent shape and have a decreased ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.

* rheumatoid arthritis (ROOmah-toyd ar-THRY-tis) is a chronic disease characterized by painful swelling, stiffness, and deformity of the joints.

* systemic lupus erythematosus (sis-TEM-ik LOO-pus er-i-thema-TO-sus), sometimes just called lupus, is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, nervous system, membranes lining body cavities, and other organs.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)