Pleurisy is inflammation around the lungs, which causes sharp chest pain. It's easy to treat and usually gets better in a few days, but can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, like pneumonia.

Check if it's pleurisy

The main symptom of pleurisy is sharp chest pain when you breathe in.

The pain may be worse when you cough, sneeze or move around.

It may also spread to your shoulders and back.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have sharp chest pain that comes and goes, or only happens when breathing or coughing
  • you have sharp chest pain that has not got better after a few days
  • you've coughed up a few small spots, flecks or streaks of blood, or noticed blood in your phlegm or on a handkerchief
  • you're feeling short of breath regularly

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • you have sudden chest pain that lasts for 15 minutes or more
  • you have sudden chest pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you're coughing up more than just a few spots or streaks of blood
  • you're coughing up blood and finding it hard to breathe, have a very fast heartbeat, or have pain in your chest or upper back

These symptoms could be a sign of a more serious problem, such as a heart attack or a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).

What happens at your appointment

If you have symptoms of pleurisy, a GP will examine you and listen to your chest.

The GP may refer you to a specialist if they're not sure what's causing your symptoms.

You may need to have tests, such as:

Treatment for pleurisy

Pleurisy will usually get better on its own in a few days without treatment from a GP.

If your symptoms are being caused by a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, you may need antibiotics.

You can ease the chest pain by:

You may need to have treatment in hospital if your symptoms are severe or being caused by something more serious, such as a pulmonary embolism or tuberculosis.

Page last reviewed: 18 May 2023
Next review due: 18 May 2026