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Difference Between Bronchitis and Pleurisy

Bronchitis is the condition in which the lower respiratory passages, including the bronchi, become inflamed. Pleurisy is the condition in which the pleural membranes become inflamed.

What is Bronchitis?


Bronchitis is an inflammatory reaction that occurs in some of the respiratory passages such as the bronchial tubes that go from the windpipe and into the lungs.


The main symptom that you will have with bronchitis is a cough which can result in sputum. The chest will also often feel tight and congested and you may find that breathing is difficult. Bronchitis can last a few weeks and be quite disabling.

Diagnosis and causes:

A physical examination and chest X-ray can aid diagnosis. The X-ray is mainly a way to eliminate other conditions that may have similar symptoms. Many different viruses can cause respiratory illness and often people who have the flu develop bronchitis afterward. Allergens like cigarette smoke can also lead to bronchitis and smokers can end up with long-term chronic bronchitis as a result.

Risk factors and treatment:

Having a respiratory infection or being a smoker, are both risk factors for bronchitis. Pain killers can help but an inhaler that helps open up the breathing passages is very helpful with bronchitis. 

What is Pleurisy?


Pleurisy is the medical condition in which the pleura of the lungs become inflamed. Pleura are actually membranes that are found lining the lungs.


The main symptom is chest pain that feels sharp and worsens as you breathe. Additional symptoms found in patients with pleurisy include feeling short of breath and having a cough on occasion. The pain may also spread into and be felt in your upper back and even shoulders and may be made worse by movement. 

Diagnosis and causes:

Pleurisy can be diagnosed by a physical exam as well as certain tests such as CT scans, chest X-rays and ultrasound. There are many reasons why someone may end up with pleurisy. Some of the causes include infection such as by a fungus, bacterium or virus. In fact, some people who have the flu can end up developing pleurisy as can people who have tuberculosis or pneumonia, which are both conditions that compromise lung function. Lung cancer or rib fractures can also result in pleurisy developing. In the case of lung cancer, it is often the tumor at the edges of the lungs near the membranes that cause the pleura to be inflamed. 

Risk factors and treatment:

People who have lung problems or infections are at a high risk of developing pleurisy. The pain can be treated with anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDs. It is important to also treat the underlying cause of pleurisy if known, so if the cause is bacterial then antibiotics can be given.

Difference between Bronchitis and Pleurisy?


Bronchitis is an inflammation of the respiratory passages such as the bronchial tubes. Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura of the lungs, which are the membranes that are found lining the outside of the lungs.


Bronchitis symptoms always include a cough, occasionally also sputum is produced, and the person may feel that their chest is tight and find breathing to be difficult. Pleurisy symptoms include sharp pain in the chest region that can radiate to the back and shoulders and sometimes there are a cough and breathing difficulties as well.


Bronchitis is usually diagnosed by a physical exam and sometimes X-rays are used to eliminate other causes of the symptoms. Pleurisy is diagnosed through a combination of physical exam and diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CT scans or ultrasound.


There are many reasons why a person can develop bronchitis, including airborne irritants and allergens, and various viral infections. The causes of pleurisy include bacterial, fungal, and viral infections of the respiratory system and also lung cancer or rib fractures.

Risk factors

Viral infections of the respiratory system and smoking or exposure to other airborne allergens are risk factors for the development of bronchitis. Respiratory infections, lung cancer, and rib fractures are the main risk factors for the development of pleurisy.


Bronchitis can be treated with NSAIDs and inhalers to help open the passages. Pleurisy can also be treated with NSAIDs for the pain and corticosteroids to help with the inflammation, but the underlying cause should be determined and treated.

Table comparing Bronchitis and Pleurisy

Summary of Bronchitis Vs. Pleurisy

  • Bronchitis and pleurisy are both inflammatory conditions impacting different parts of the respiratory system.
  • Bronchitis affects mainly the lower passageways of the respiratory system.
  • Pleurisy impacts the membranes that are found lining both lungs.
  • Bronchitis and pleurisy can both cause problems with breathing and pain.
  • Both bronchitis and pleurisy can result from a viral infection such as influenza.

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References :

[0]Mayo Clinic. “Pleurisy”. Mayo Clinic, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pleurisy/symptoms-causes/syc-20351863

[1]Sethi, Sanjay. “Acute bronchitis”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2018, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/acute-bronchitis/acute-bronchitis

[2]US Department of Health and Human Services. “Pleural disorders”. NIH, 2019, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/pleural-disorders

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pleurisy.png

[4]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bronchitis.png

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