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Pleurisy: Devil Anse Hatfield's Illness On Haftields & McCoys

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If you've been following the History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys miniseries about the famous Civil War-era feud between the Hatfield and McCoy clans of West Virginia and Kentucky, you may have noticed something unfamiliar in Devil Anse Hatfield last night: pleurisy.

The condition, which is also known as pleuritis, sounds like an antiquated concern, but it actually continues to afflict people. Pleurisy refers to inflammation of the pleura -- the lining of the pleural cavity that encompases the lungs. It can be excruciatingly painful, causing a sharp sensation with every breath, laugh, sneeze or wheeze. Other symptoms include respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, rapid shallow breathing and coughing, including coughing up blood, as well as less intuitive symptoms like heart arrhythmia, fever, weight loss and diarrhea.

It's unclear what caused Hatfield's pleurisy, though the most common cause of pleurisy in patients today is a viral infection. Pneumonia, lung cancer, pulmonary embolism, Cystic fibrosis and other lung-affecting diseases are also often causal, though some cases of pleurisy have no known cause. The National Institutes of Health also lists chest trauma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus as causes. Here's a full list of associated illnesses.

If you have symptoms of pleurisy, the best diagnostic test is a CT scan, ultrasound or blood test. Treatment is a little more varied, depending on the cause of the pleurisy, though painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs can help to manage the pain.

Hatfield is in pretty good company, as pleurisy has affected many notable people and even killed a few luminaries, including Benjamin Franklin in 1790 and William Wordsworth in 1850. The prognosis for modern-day sufferers of pleurisy is better because treatment for underlying conditions -- ranging from lung cancer to lupus -- are better.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified the pleurisy sufferer as Anse Devil Hatfield. In fact, his name is Devil Anse Hatfield. We regret the error.

 
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