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What is Pleuritic Chest Pain?

By Matt Brady
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pleuritic chest pain, also known as pleurisy or pleuritis, is characterized by a painful sensation in the chest that can spread to the shoulders and neck. The pain can either feel sharp or dull and aching, and often becomes worse when trying to inhale deeply. Pleuritic chest pain is named after the pleura, a membrane which surrounds the lungs and chest cavity; it can at times become inflamed and irritated due to infection, respiratory sensitivities, physical injury and various diseases. Much of the pain from pleurisy stems from different layers of the pleura puffing up and rubbing against one another. Pleurisy can be symptomatic of serious issues in need of treatment, but at times can flare up for no identifiable reason and pose no more of a health threat than a mild bout of indigestion.

Symptoms are typically marked by sharp, stabbing pains in the chest area. They can also, however, manifest in a dull pain accompanied by a tight sensation in the chest that makes it difficult for one to breathe in deeply without feeling sharp pain. Depending on the level of inflammation, the pain may also spread to other areas, such as the shoulders and neck. Pleurisy can easily be mistaken as a serious heart problem, such as cardiac arrest. For that reason, those who admit themselves into medical clinics with symptoms of pleurisy are treated as though a serious heart complication might actually be occurring.

Pleuritic chest pain can be caused by a wide variety of factors, from the completely benign to the life-threatening. It's not altogether uncommon for a case of pleurisy to be idiopathic, meaning that no cause can be found. The majority of cases are caused by some kind of viral infection in the respiratory symptom. Causes, however, can be based in a variety of conditions from cancer to high blood pressure. Individuals who have a medical history involving chest injury or heart surgery are often more susceptible to pleuritic chest pains.

Pleuritic chest pain can be diagnosed a couple of different ways. Often, pleurisy is accompanied by extra fluid in the pleural membrane, which makes the condition visible to any number of chest scanning tests, including x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs. When the layers of the pleura become inflamed, they also rub up against one another, often creating a sound audible enough to be heard by stethoscope. Thus, doctors can also partially diagnose the condition by ear.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Mar 29, 2013

@burcinc-- It's not always that serious. It can also be caused by an infection. That was the case with me, I just had to take antibiotics. My sharp chest pain disappeared along with the infection.

By burcinc — On Mar 29, 2013

@fify-- Aside from chest pain symptoms, do you also have coughing and shortness of breath?

I think you should see a doctor right away. Pleuritic chest pain can be very serious. It can be due to an autoimmune disease or even heart problems. It's not something to be taken lightly.

I had fluid accumulation in my lung pleura because of Lupus. I had to have the fluid drained.

By fify — On Mar 28, 2013

I have been experiencing chest pain for the past week. It's a dull pain that becomes worse when I breathe. I haven't seen a doctor yet. I don't have insurance right now so I want to wait a bit longer and see if the pain will go away on its own.

Has anyone else experienced this before? Do you have any recommendations for me? How can I relieve the symptoms on my own? I am taking a pain reliever right now but it's not doing much good.

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