April 20, 2024

Pleural Diseases Demystified: Exploring Causes and Management Strategies

Pleural Diseases

The pleura is a thin membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest cavity. It consists of two layers – the parietal pleura which lines the chest wall and the visceral pleura which covers the outside of the lungs. The space between these two layers is called the pleural space. When this space becomes inflamed or fills with fluid, it can lead to a condition known as a pleural disease. Some common pleural diseases include:

Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion refers to a condition where the pleural space between the two pleural layers fills up with excess fluid. This excess fluid is called a pleural effusion. There are many possible causes for a pleural effusion including infections of the lungs or nearby structures, congestive heart failure, cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the pleura from another location like the lungs, or collagen vascular diseases. A pleural effusion may cause symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain. The diagnosis is made through a physical examination and chest x-ray or CT scan showing fluid in the pleural space. Treatment depends on the underlying cause but often involves draining the fluid with a procedure called thoracentesis.


A pneumothorax refers to air in the pleural space between the lungs and chest wall. This can occur when there is a tear or hole in the lung tissue allowing air to leak into the pleural space. There are two main types – a spontaneous pneumothorax which occurs for no apparent reason or a tension pneumothorax which is a medical emergency. Symptoms include sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, and a respiratory rate faster than normal. The diagnosis is made through a chest x-ray or CT imaging. Most cases are treated by inserting a chest tube to re-expand the lung. Surgery may be needed for recurring cases of spontaneous pneumothorax.

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are abnormal thickened areas that may develop on the pleura as a result of previous asbestos exposure. Asbestos is the most common cause of pleural plaques as it can irritate and scar the lining of the lungs and chest cavity when breathed in. Pleural plaques themselves do not cause any symptoms and do not increase the risk of future lung cancer or mesothelioma. However, their presence indicates someone has been exposed to asbestos in the past. Pleural plaques are discovered incidentally on chest x-rays or CT scans. No treatment is usually needed unless they continue to grow in size.

Pleural Tumors

Cancerous or malignant tumors can develop from cells in the pleura. Primary pleural tumors arise directly from the mesothelial cells of the pleura. Examples include malignant mesothelioma which is seen due to asbestos exposure and some other rare cancers. Secondary or metastatic pleural tumors result from cancer that has spread from another part of the body like the lungs or breast. Symptoms include chest pain, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Diagnosis involves chest imaging, biopsy of pleural fluid or tissue, and blood tests. Treatment options depend on the type and stage of cancer but may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy. The prognosis depends significantly on how early the cancer is detected and treated.

Other Important Pleural Diseases

In addition to the above common conditions, there are several other pleural diseases that can sometimes occur including hemothorax (blood in the pleural space), empyema (pus or infection in the pleural space), pneumonolysis or pneumothorax (separation of lung from chest wall), fibrous pleurisy (scarring and thickening of the pleura), and diaphragmatic pleurisy (inflammation of the diaphragm). Rarer causes can be due to things like lupus, sarcoidosis, radiation therapy, yellow nail syndrome, and other autoimmune disorders. Getting a proper diagnosis from a doctor is important for determining the right treatment approach to manage symptoms and underlying causes.

In conclusion, the pleura are thin membranes that line the lungs and chest cavity. When inflamed or filled with fluid, air, blood, or other materials it can lead to various pleural diseases. Some common conditions include pleural effusions, pneumothorax, pleural plaques, and pleural tumors which were discussed. Getting an accurate diagnosis is key for guiding appropriate management and treatment.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it