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Pleurisy

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the lungs, with subsequent pain

Information about Pleurisy

Pleurisy may develop in the presence of lung inflammation (for example, pneumonia, tuberculosis), rheumatic diseases, chest trauma, certain cancers, and asbestos-related disease. The main symptom is pain over the chest wall at the site of the inflammation. In some circumstances, the pain may be felt in the shoulder.

The pain is increased by deep breathing, coughing, and chest movement. The normally smooth pleural surfaces, now roughened by inflammation, rub together with each breath, and may produce a rough, grating sound called a "friction rub". This can be heard with the stethoscope or an ear held against the chest.

Fluid often accumulates at the site of pleural inflammation. A localized collection of fluid separates the lung pleura from the chest wall pleura causing the chest pain to disappear even though the illness may be worsening.

Large accumulations of fluid compromise breathing and may cause coughing, shortness of breath with rapid breathing (tachypnea), cyanosis, and retractions.
 
 

Symptoms of Pleurisy

  • Recent or present respiratory illness with its symptoms
    • Cough
    • Fever
    • Malaise
  • Localized chest pain on the chest wall
    • Pain with each breath
    • Worsened by coughing
    • Worsened by deep breathing

Diagnosis of Pleurisy

 

 

Physical examination may show abnormal lung sounds:

  • A friction rub -- a rough scratchy sound that accompanies inspiration and expiration
  • Rales (may be present if there is an accompanying pneumonia)
  • Rhonchi (may be present with accompanying pneumonia or bronchitic process)
  • Decreased breath sounds (may be present if there is a collection of fluid around the lung

Tests:

  • CBC (may help differentiate bacterial versus viral infection)
  • X-ray of the chest
  • Ultrasound of the chest
  • Thoracentesis (a collection of fluid from the pleural cavity)

Causes of Pleurisy

A variety of conditions can give rise to pleurisy. The following list represents the most common sources of pleural inflammation.

  • Infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other bacterial or viral respiratory infections
  • Immune disorders, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and sarcoidosis
  • Diseases, including cancer, pancreatitis, liver cirrhosis, and heart or kidney failure
  • Injury, from a rib fracture, collapsed lung, esophagus rupture, blood clot, or material such as asbestos
  • Drug reactions, from certain drugs used to treat tuberculosis (isoniazid), cancer (methotrexate, procarbazine), or the immune disorders mentioned above (hydralazine, procainamide, phenytoin, quinidine).

 

Symptomatic pain

The hallmark symptom of pleurisy is sudden, intense chest pain that is usually located over the area of inflammation. Although the pain can be constant, it is usually most severe when the lungs move during breathing, coughing, sneezing, or even talking. The pain is usually described as shooting or stabbing, but in minor cases it resembles a mild cramp. When pleurisy occurs in certain locations, such as near the diaphragm, the pain may be felt in other areas such as the neck, shoulder, or abdomen (referred pain). Another indication of pleurisy is that holding one's breath or exerting pressure against the chest causes pain relief.

Breathing difficulties

Pleurisy is also characterized by certain respiratory symptoms. In response to the pain, pleurisy patients commonly have a rapid, shallow breathing pattern. Pleural effusion can also cause shortness of breath, as excess fluid makes expanding the lungs difficult. If severe breathing difficulties persist, patients may experience a blue colored complexion (cyanosis).

Additional symptoms of pleurisy are specific to the illness that triggers the condition. Thus, if infection is the cause, then chills, fever, and fatigue will be likely pleurisy symptoms.

Diagnosis of Pleurisy

The distinctive pain of pleurisy is normally the first clue physicians use for diagnosis. Doctors usually feel the chest to find the most painful area, which is the likely site of inflammation. A stethoscope is also used to listen for abnormal chest sounds as the patient breathes. If the doctor hears the characteristic friction rub, the diagnosis of pleurisy can be confirmed. Sometimes, a friction rub is masked by the presence of pleural effusion and further examination is needed for an accurate diagnosis.

Identifying the actual illness that causes pleurisy is more difficult. To make this diagnosis, doctors must evaluate the patient's history, additional symptoms, and laboratory test results. A chest x ray may also be taken to look for signs of accumulated fluid and other abnormalities. Possible causes, such as pneumonia, fractured ribs, esophagus rupture, and lung tumors may be detected on an x ray. Computed tomography scan (CT scan) and ultrasound scans are more powerful diagnostic tools used to visualize the chest cavity. Images from these techniques more clearly pinpoint the location of excess fluid or other suspected problems.

The most helpful information in diagnosing the cause of pleurisy is a fluid analysis. Once the doctor knows the precise location of fluid accumulation, a sample is removed using a procedure called thoracentesis. In this technique, a fine needle is inserted into the chest to reach the pleural space and extract fluid. The fluid's appearance and composition is thoroughly examined to help doctors understand how the fluid was produced. Several laboratory tests are performed to analyze the chemical components of the fluid. These tests also determine whether infection-causing bacteria or viruses are present. In addition, cells within the fluid are identified and counted. Cancerous cells can also be detected to learn whether the pleurisy is caused by a malignancy.

In certain instances, such as dry pleurisy, or when a fluid analysis is not informative, a biopsy of the pleura may be needed for microscopic analysis. A sample of pleural tissue can be obtained several ways: with a biopsy needle, by making a small incision in the chest wall, or by using a thoracoscope (a video-assisted instrument for viewing the pleural space and collecting samples).

Treatment of Pleurisy

Pain management

The pain of pleurisy is usually treated with analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and indomethacin. People suffering from pleurisy may also receive relief from lying on the painful side. Sometimes, a painful cough will be controlled with codeine-based cough syrups. However, as the pain eases, a person with pleurisy should try to breathe deeply and cough to clear any congestion, otherwise pneumonia may occur. Rest is also important to aid in the recovery process.

Treating the source of Pleurisy

The treatment used to cure pleurisy is ultimately defined by the underlying cause. Thus, pleurisy from a bacterial infection can be successfully treated with antibiotics, while no treatment is given for viral infections that must run their course. Specific therapies designed for more chronic illnesses can often cause pleurisy to subside. For example, tuberculosis pleurisy is treated with standard anti-tuberculosis drugs. With some illnesses, excess fluid continues to accumulate and causes severe respiratory distress. In these individuals, the fluid may be removed by thoracentesis, or the doctor may insert a chest tube to drain large amounts. If left untreated, a more serious infection may develop within the fluid, called empyema.

Alternative treatment of Pleurisy

Alternative treatments can be used in conjunction with conventional treatment to help heal pleurisy. Acupuncture and botanical medicines are alternative approaches for alleviating pleural pain and breathing problems. An herbal remedy commonly recommended is pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa), so named because of its use by early American settlers who learned of this medicinal plant from Native Americans. Pleurisy root helps to ease pain, inflammation, and breathing difficulties brought on by pleurisy. This herb is often used in conjunction with mullein (Verbascum thapsus) or elecampane (Inula helenium), which serve as expectorants to clear excess mucus from the lungs. In addition, there are many other respiratory herbs that are used as expectorants or for other actions on the respiratory system. Herbs thought to combat infection, such as echinacea (Echinacea spp.) are also included in herbal pleurisy remedies. Anitviral herbs, such as Lomatium dissectum and Ligusticum porteri, can be used if the pleurisy is of viral origin. Traditional Chinese medicine uses the herb ephedra (Ephedra sinica), which acts to open air passages and alleviate respiratory difficulties in pleurisy patients. Dietary recommendations include eating fresh fruits and vegetables, adequate protein, and good quality fats (omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and are found in fish and flax oil). Taking certain nutritional supplements, especially large doeses of vitamin C, may also provide health benefits to people with pleurisy. Contrast hydrotherapy applied to the chest and back, along with compresses (cloths soaked in an herbal solution) or poultices (crushed herbs applied directly to the skin) of respiratory herbs, can assist in the healing process. Homeopathic treatment, guided by a trained practitioner, can be effective in resolving pleurisy.

Prognosis of Pleurisy

Prompt diagnosis, followed by appropriate treatment, ensures a good recovery for most pleurisy patients. Generally speaking, the prognosis for pleurisy is linked to the seriousness of its cause. Therefore, the outcome of pleurisy caused by a disease such as cancer will vary depending on the type and location of the tumor.

Prevention of Pleurisy

Preventing pleurisy is often a matter of providing early medical attention to conditions that can cause pleural inflammation. Along this line, appropriate antibiotic treatment of bacterial respiratory infections may successfully prevent some cases of pleurisy. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding exposure to harmful substances (for example, asbestos) are more general preventative measures.

 

 

 

   

   

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