Pleurisy or pleuritis is inflammation of the double membrane, or pleura, that lines the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs. This severe condition can reoccur even after treatment, so it is essential to contact a doctor when one experiences symptoms of pleurisy.
When the pleura becomes inflamed, the layers rub together, causing chest pain or pleuritic pain. The symptom usually starts suddenly and is described as a stabbing pain that gets worse with breathing but it can also be constant. Pleuretic pain is usually present only on one side of the chest, and the individual can often point to the exact location of the sensation.
Inflammation of the pleura can cause fluid to build up in the pleural cavity, leading to pleural effusion. Because the fluid prevents the two layers of the pleura from rubbing together, patients usually report less pain. If there is a large amount of fluid, however, it may interfere with lung expansion, making breathing difficult.
Patients with pleurisy might experience unexplained weight loss. Pain in the chest and breathing difficulties can make it difficult to consume food. In some cases, eating causes the pain to worsen, which prompts individuals to eat less. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies that may interfere with treatment and recovery.
When pleural effusion occurs, patients often develop a dry cough. A build-up of fluid in the lungs prevents them from expanding fully. This decreased expansion capacity prompts the body to try to expel the fluid by coughing. Since this mechanism brings no relief, the coughing continues.
If pleurisy is chronic and not treated, the sharp pain in the chest can extend to the shoulders, back, and ribs. The symptom usually feels like it is radiating from a single location, throughout the body. Sometimes holding one's breath or pressing on the painful area can ease the pain.
Pleurisy often results from chronic inflammation or infection, which can cause flu-like symptoms such as muscle and joint pain. If the patient experiences this pain for an extended period, and doctors have not identified another condition, the pain might be a symptom of pleurisy.
When the pleura and fluid in the lungs become infected, the body's natural reaction is to fight the inflammation by increasing the immune system response. One way the immune system responds is by producing pyrogens. These chemicals travel to the brain, where the hypothalamus senses their presence. In response, the hypothalamus raises the body's temperature above the normal range, prompting a fever to defend against the infection. Pleurisy is sometimes caused by a bacterial or viral infection, and the infection itself can cause fever and chills.
Chronic pleurisy leaves individuals feeling tired and weak. Additionally, one might experience fatigue due to antibiotic treatment and prolonged bed rest. Fatigue leads to anÂ inability to carry out simple daily activities and is often not alleviated regardless of the amount of sleep. Fatigue caused by pleurisy can last for weeks.
A less common symptom that some people with pleurisy experience is a headache. The head pain is typically mild and similar in character to a tension headache. This symptom is more common in people who have pleurisy related to a viral infection.
Some people with pleurisy complain of a sore throat, sometimes before other pleurisy symptoms appear. One cause of the condition is a viral or bacterial infection. In some cases, the infection begins in the throat and goes on to affect the pleura. Since there are many causes of pleurisy, not everyone experiences a sore throat.
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