Pleuritic pain

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 21 Jul 2020

Pleuritic pain is the primary symptom of pleurisy but also occurs with several non-pleural-related pathologies, which need to be kept in mind when someone presents in this way.

Clinical presentation

Pleuritic chest pain is often described by patients as being sharp and focused in nature. Characteristically the pain is aggravated by any action involving a vigorous inspiration/expiration, e.g. sneezing, laughing, coughing, deep breathing etc. It is usually unilateral. 

Accompanying signs on physical examination are very variable. If the underlying cause is pleurisy, then a pleural rub may be auscultated. This is a scratchy sound, usually best appreciated on the side of the pain, due to the rubbing of the inflamed visceral and parietal pleura against each other.


The visceral pleura completely lacks pain sensation. Conversely, the parietal pleura is replete with nociceptors and richly innervated, which are stimulated by any inflammation/injury to the pleura.

Moreover, any inflammatory process of the adjacent soft tissues can spread to the parietal pleura secondarily causing pain, e.g. lung, pericardium, diaphragm, therefore pathologies such as pneumonia can present with pleuritic pain, despite the absence of a true pleurisy.


The possible causes of pleuritic pain are many. This list includes causes of pleurisy, and also other non-pleural pathologies that can stimulate the pain fibers of the parietal pleura.

Non-pleural pathology

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