Overview of Pleurisy

Pleurisy (pronounced PLUR-ĭs-see), also called pleuritis and pleuritic chest pain, is a condition characterized by swelling (inflammation) of the membrane that surrounds the lungs and separates the lungs from the chest wall and other organs in the chest (e.g., diaphragm, heart). This membrane is called the pleura or pleural sac.

The pleura consists of two layers of tissue: one layer surrounds the lungs and the other layer lines the inner walls of the chest. Between these two layers of tissue is a thin area of space called the pleural space. The pleural space contains a small amount of pleural fluid, which lubricates the lining and allows the lungs to expand during breathing with little friction.

When the pleura becomes inflamed, the surfaces of the membrane rub together as the lungs expand with each breath. Since pain receptors in the lungs are located in the pleura, this friction results in pain, especially when breathing in.

In some cases, inflammation of the pleura can result in other related disorders, such as pleural effusion (increased amount of fluid in the pleural space), pneumothorax (build up of air in the pleural space), or hemothorax (build up of blood in the pleural space).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 19 Oct 2008

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2015