The types of pleural disorders are pleural effusion, pleurisy, and pneumothorax.
Pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid in the pleural space. The cause of the buildup determines the type of pleural effusion.
Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura. It is also called pleuritis.
Pneumothorax occurs when air or other gas builds up in the pleural space and may cause part or all of the lung to collapse.
There are different types of pneumothorax.
Pleural disorders may be caused by inflammation, injury, or an imbalance of fluids in the pleural space.
Pleurisy is caused by inflammation in the pleura. The inflammation may happen because of an infection, tumor, or another medical condition.
The inflammation affects the two thin layers of the pleura. This can cause the surface of the layers to become rough and the fluid in between the layers to become sticky. When this happens, the two layers may rub together every time you breathe in instead of gliding past each other.
A chest injury, even an injury that does not break the skin but causes internal damage, can allow air, fluid, or blood to leak into the pleural space. This can cause a pneumothorax or pleural effusion.
Pleural effusions develop when fluid enters the pleural space faster or at a higher amount than the body can reabsorb. This imbalance of fluids can be caused by heart, kidney, or liver failure, or other medical conditions.
You may have an increased risk for a pleural disorder because of your age, your family history and genetics, your lifestyle habits, medicines you take, other medical conditions, and your sex.
Pleural disorders can happen at any age, but pneumothorax is most common in people 15 to 34 years old and people over age 55.
Having a family history of spontaneous pneumothorax increases your risk.
Smoking tobacco or marijuana increases your risk of spontaneous pneumothorax.
Taking certain medicines can increase your risk of some pleural disorders.
Pleural disorders are often complications of other diseases, either in the lungs or elsewhere in the body.
Men, especially those who are taller than average, are more likely than women to have a spontaneous pneumothorax, often without underlying lung disease.
Learn about the preventive strategies your doctor may recommend.
The signs and symptoms for pleural disorders may include:
Complications for pleural disorders can be life threatening. Some of the possible complications include:
Your doctor may diagnose a pleural disorder based on your medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests and procedures. Before diagnosing you with a pleural disorder, your doctor will rule out other medical reasons or conditions that may be causing your signs and symptoms.
To help diagnose a pleural disorder, your doctor may ask you to describe any chest pain, including details such as the following:
This information about the chest pain you have experienced can help your doctor determine whether it is caused by problems with your heart, chest muscles, lungs, or digestive system.
As part of a physical examination, your doctor will measure your blood pressure and heart rate, feel your chest and belly, take your temperature, listen to your heart and lungs, and feel your pulse. Your doctor may also check the level of oxygen in your blood with a probe on your finger or forehead.
Your doctor will listen to your breathing to find out whether your lungs are making any abnormal sounds.
Your doctor may order a combination of the following tests to help diagnose a pleural disorder.
Your doctor may order the following tests to help rule out other medical conditions that can cause chest pain.
How your pleural disorder is treated depends on what type of pleural disorder you have and how severe it is. Some pleural disorders go away without treatment. Others will require a procedure to remove air, fluid, or other material from the pleural space. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and treat the underlying condition.
Your doctor may recommend medicine to treat symptoms or causes of your pleural disorder, including:
Your doctor may perform one or more procedures to treat a pleural disorder. Many of these procedures are performed using ultrasound.
As you recover from your treatment for a pleural disorder, it is important to follow your treatment plan. You may need to follow up with your doctor regularly to monitor your condition. You will also want to take steps to prevent complications or a repeat pleural disorder.
If your pleural disorder is caused by a disease such as COPD, be sure to follow the treatment plan for that condition.
If you have an IPC to drain pleural fluid, it may stay in for a few months or longer. Infection is possible around the insertion site, but infections can usually be treated without removing the IPC.
Return to Treatment to review possible treatment options for your pleural disorder.
After a spontaneous pneumothorax, you are at risk of having another spontaneous pneumothorax. People who have underlying lung disease are more likely to have another spontaneous pneumothorax.
Quitting smoking if you smoke and not starting if you do not smoke can help reduce your risk.
If you have severe chest pain or trouble breathing, call 9-1-1. A tension pneumothorax is a life-threatening medical emergency.
Visit our Cardiogenic Shock health topic to learn the symptoms of shock.
If you have or have recently had a pneumothorax, your doctor may recommend the following precautions to help you stay safe.
Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for people with pleural disorders. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing lung disease scientific discovery.
Learn about some of the pioneering research contributions we have made over the years that have improved clinical care.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing pleural disorders research in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring about pleural disorders.
We lead or sponsor studies relevant to pleural disorders. See if you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials related to LAM, which can lead to pleural disorders.
To learn more about clinical trials at the NIH Clinical Center or to talk to someone about a study that might fit your needs, call the Office of Patient Recruitment 800-411-1222.
After reading our Pleural Disorders Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.