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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Pleuritic Chest Pain: Sorting Through the Differential Diagnosis

Brian V Reamy, Pamela M Williams, Michael Ryan Odom
American Family Physician 2017 September 1, 96 (5): 306-312
28925655
Pleuritic chest pain is characterized by sudden and intense sharp, stabbing, or burning pain in the chest when inhaling and exhaling. Pulmonary embolism is the most common serious cause, found in 5% to 21% of patients who present to an emergency department with pleuritic chest pain. A validated clinical decision rule for pulmonary embolism should be employed to guide the use of additional tests such as d-dimer assays, ventilation-perfusion scans, or computed tomography angiography. Myocardial infarction, pericarditis, aortic dissection, pneumonia, and pneumothorax are other serious causes that should be ruled out using history and physical examination, electrocardiography, troponin assays, and chest radiography before another diagnosis is made. Validated clinical decision rules are available to help exclude coronary artery disease. Viruses are common causative agents of pleuritic chest pain. Coxsackieviruses, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, parainfluenza, mumps, adenovirus, cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus are likely pathogens. Treatment is guided by the underlying diagnosis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are appropriate for pain management in those with virally triggered or nonspecific pleuritic chest pain. In patients with persistent symptoms, persons who smoke, and those older than 50 years with pneumonia, it is important to document radiographic resolution with repeat chest radiography six weeks after initial treatment.

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