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The pleura is the membrane that lines the thoracic (chest) cavity and covers the lungs. It is like a large sheet of tissue that wraps around the outside of the lungs and lines the inside of the chest cavity. There are several types of pleural diseases, including:

  • Pleurisy - an infection of the pleural cavity
  • Pleural effusion - the buildup of pleural fluid in the pleural cavity
  • Pneumothorax - the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity
  • Hemothorax - the presence of blood in the pleural cavity
  • Pleural tumors

What are the Symptoms of Pleural Diseases?

Symptoms of pleurisy may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A cough
  • Fever and chills
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sore throat that is followed by joint swelling and soreness

Pleural Effusion

  • Typically, pleural effusion causes no symptoms.

Symptoms of pneumothorax include:

  • Sudden sharp pain that worsens with deep breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Fast heart rate
  • Bluish skin color (called cyanosis)

Symptoms of hemothorax may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory failure
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness

Symptoms of pleural tumors may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • General discomfort
  • Cough
  • Unexplained weight loss

Causes of Pleural Diseases

Causes of pleurisy include:

  • Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections
  • Lung cancer
  • Other lung diseases, such as sarcoidosis, asbestosis, lymphangioleiomyomatosis, and mesothelioma
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Familial Mediterranean fever
  • Parasites
  • Heart surgery
  • Chest injury (trauma)
  • Reaction to certain medications

Causes of pleural effusion include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis, asbestosis, sarcoidosis, and reactions to medications
  • Bulla, which is a large distended air space
  • Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Surgery
  • Trauma
  • Chest trauma
  • Lung and pleural cancer
  • Chest or heart surgery

For some pleural tumors, the cause is unknown. Known causes of pleural tumors may include cancer that has spread to the pleural space.

Pleural Diseases at Boston Medical Center


830 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118
Moakley Building, 3rd Floor


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