Pleuritic Chest Pain: It Isn’t Necessarily Pleurisy

“Pleuritic chest pain” and “pleurisy” are not the same thing, although the two words are often used interchangeably. Pleuritic chest pain is pain someone experiences, and pleurisy is a medical condition.

Many people assume pleuritic chest pain has to be caused by pleurisy because of the similarity between the two words, but pleuritic chest pain is caused by an irritation between the pleura, the linings of the lungs, so, the resultant pain is called “pleuritic chest pain.” However, if chest pain within the pleura is caused by pneumothorax (a rib injury), pleurisy, or any other reason, it is still called pleuritic chest pain.

Stabbing Pain

Sara Kass, Pamela Williams, and Brian Reamy writes that people with pleuritic chest pain report sharp, stabbing pain that becomes worse with movement. The pain will also become worse with deep breaths, speaking, coughing, or sneezing. They noted that people experiencing pleuritic chest pain try to move their upper body as little as possible to avoid setting off the pain. This can be difficult since some of the causes of pleuritic chest pain result in coughing, sneezing, and other respiratory issues, and it can also be problematic to refrain from changing positions, standing up, etc.

What would you do if you or a young man in your family suddenly experienced sharp chest pain? Spontaneous pneumothorax is a common cause of pleuritic chest pain among teenage boys. According to Dr. Suneeta Kochar and Dr. Paul Cornelius, pneumothorax is when air is trapped in the space between the pleura. They noted a significantly higher rate of pneumothorax in young, healthy men between the ages of ten and thirty as compared to women of the same age. Smoking does increase their risk of pneumothorax up to twelve percent. It is interesting to note that these figures refer to young men who are not experiencing other health issues.

Pleurisy, sometimes called pleuritis, is reported by Ian Peate to be when the linings of the lungs become inflamed and the fluid between the pleura is congested so the pain receptors in the sensory fibers between them becomes irritated. Pleurisy is often the result of viral respiratory infections such as the flu, bronchitis, and viral pneumonia. Peate noted that rib injury is another main cause of pleuritic chest pain. He reported other causes included tuberculosis, lupus, cancer, and sickle cell.  He also listed pneumothorax-related causes.

When you visit your doctor about chest pain symptoms, Peate pointed out that it might be difficult to discuss your issues due to problems breathing and speaking through the pain. However, it is important to communicate with your doctor so you can receive proper treatment. Part of your diagnosis might include an electrocardiogram and a chest x-ray so your doctor can identify the specific cause of your pleuritic chest pain. It is important that they identify the proper cause before they begin treatment. Remember, if you are experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing, or if previously diagnosed chest pain has become worse, you should contact your doctor immediately.


Works Cited

Kass, S., Williams, Pamela, and Reamy, Brian. “Pleurisy.” American Family Physician 75:9 (2007): 1357-1364. EBSCOhost. Web. 3 June 2011.

Kochar, Suneeta and Cornelius, Paul “Clinical – Respiratory – Spotting the Signs of Pneumothorax.” Independent Nurse. 2:32 (2009): 32. LexisNexis. Web. 7 June 2011.

McIntosh, Deborah. “Chest Pain.” The Sun Herald. 20 May 2011, Late Edition. LexisNexis. Web. 20 May 2011.

Peate, Ian. “Caring for the Person with Pleurisy.” British Journal of Healthcare Assistants 03:10 (2009): 480-483. EBSCOhost. Web. 3 June 2011.