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Pleuritic chest pain is caused by inflammation of the pleura – the tissues that surround the lungs and line the inner chest wall. This type of chest pain is characterized by sudden and intense sharp, stabbing, or burning pain in the chest when inhaling and exhaling. It’s exacerbated by sneezing, coughing, deep breathing or laughing. The condition that causes pleuritic chest pain is called pleurisy.
When the pleura become irritated and inflamed, the two membranous pleural layers rub against each other like two pieces of sandpaper producing pain when you breathe. Causes of pleurisy include:1
Symptoms of pleurisy include:1
Sometimes, pleurisy leads to something called a pleural effusion, a condition that causes fluid to accumulate in the pleural space – the small space between the two layers of tissue in the lungs. When a moderate amount of fluid fills this space, pleuritic chest pain may decrease or disappear altogether because the two layers of tissue are no longer rubbing against each other. Too much fluid however, can create pressure on the lung, compressing it until it partially, or completely, collapses. This can cause breathing difficulties and in some cases, a cough. If the extra fluid becomes infected, the condition is known as empyema, a collection of pus in the pleural cavity that’s often accompanied by a fever.1
If pleuritic chest pain sends you to the doctor, she may recommend the following tests to determine if you have pleurisy:1
Treatment of pleuritic chest pain is directed at the underlying cause. For example, if a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, is causing the pleurisy, an antibiotic will be prescribed. If the pleuritic chest pain is caused by a virus, it will resolve on its own. The success of treatment depends upon early diagnosis of the condition causing the pleurisy and then early treatment.1
To relieve symptoms related to pleuritic chest pain, take over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen, also known as Motrin or Advil and get plenty of rest.1
If you have pleuritic chest pain or any other symptoms of pleurisy, be sure to make an appointment with your primary care provider as soon as possible to get it checked out.
 Mayo Clinic. Pleurisy. Last reviewed. November 12, 2016.
 Reamy BV., et. al. Pleuritic Chest Pain: Sorting Through the Differential Diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2017 Sep 1;96(5):306-312.