Two large, thin layers of tissue called pleura separate your lungs from your chest wall. One layer wraps around the outside of the lungs. The other layer lines the inner chest wall. Between these two layers is a small space (pleural space) that's usually filled with a very small amount of liquid. The layers act like two pieces of smooth satin gliding past each other, allowing your lungs to expand and contract when you breathe without any resistance from the lining of the chest wall.

Pleurisy occurs when the pleura becomes irritated and inflamed. As a result, the two layers of the pleural membrane rub against each other like two pieces of sandpaper, producing pain when you inhale and exhale. The pleuritic pain lessens or stops when you hold your breath.

Causes of pleurisy include:

  • A viral infection, such as the flu (influenza)
  • A bacterial infection, such as pneumonia
  • A fungal infection
  • Rheumatoid disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Certain medications
  • Lung cancer near the pleural surface
Jan. 02, 2014