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What Causes Pleurisy and Other Pleural Disorders?


Many conditions can cause pleurisy. Viral infections are likely the most common cause. Other causes of pleurisy include:

  • Bacterial infections (such as pneumonia and tuberculosis) and infections from fungi or parasites
  • Pulmonary embolism (a sudden blockage in a lung artery, usually caused by a blood clot)
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cancer, such as lung cancer, lymphoma, and mesothelioma (MEZ-o-thee-lee-O-ma)
  • Chest and heart surgery, especially coronary artery bypass grafting
  • Lung diseases, such as LAM (lymphangioleiomyomatosis) or asbestosis (as-bes-TO-sis)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Familial Mediterranean fever (an inherited condition that often causes fever and swelling in the abdomen or lungs)

Other causes of pleurisy include chest injuries, pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas), and reactions to some medicines.

Sometimes the cause of pleurisy isn't known.


A lung disease or an acute lung injury can cause a pneumothorax (a buildup of air or gas in the pleural space). Lung diseases that can cause a pneumothorax include COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), tuberculosis, LAM, and cystic fibrosis.

Surgery or a chest injury also may cause a pneumothorax.

You can develop a pneumothorax without having a recognized lung disease or chest injury. This is called a spontaneous pneumothorax. Smoking increases your risk of spontaneous pneumothorax. Having a family history of the condition also increases your risk.

Pleural Effusion

The most common cause of a pleural effusion (a buildup of fluid in the pleural space) is heart failure. Lung cancer, LAM, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other lung infections also can lead to a pleural effusion.

Sometimes kidney or liver disease can cause fluid to build up in the pleural space. Asbestosis, sarcoidosis (sar-koy-DO-sis), and reactions to some medicines also can lead to a pleural effusion.


An injury to the chest, chest or heart surgery, or lung or pleural cancer can cause a hemothorax (a buildup of blood in the pleural space).

An infection (for example, pneumonia), tuberculosis, or a spontaneous pneumothorax also can lead to a hemothorax.

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Pleurisy and Other Pleural Disorders Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Pleurisy and Other Pleural Disorders, visit

September 21, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.