What Causes Pain in the Lungs? 15 Potential Sources

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Pain in the Lungs
Credit: iStock.com/yodiyim

“Pain in the lungs” is a phrase often used to describe the pain a person feels in their chest. You might feel as though pain is coming from your lungs. However, lung pain is not necessarily an accurate term, since lungs do not have pain receptors.

Because your lungs typically don’t process pain, it can be difficult to determine the origin of the pain and which organs are involved.

For instance, if you feel left lung pain, general chest pain is often the problem at hand.

Continue reading to learn what causes chest pain in the lung area, as well as when that pain in the lungs is really lung cancer chest pain.

What Causes Pain in the Lungs?

What causes chest pain in the lung area? To be clear, lung pain is not a condition—it is a symptom.

If you feel rib pain or chest pain, this may be related to any organ system within regions of the abdomen and chest. This includes the intestinal tract, heart, and, yes, the lungs.

The following are 15 conditions that may be the cause of your chest or lung pain. It is important to note that if you experience the symptoms associated with the conditions below and your chest or lung pain persists, be sure to visit your doctor.

On that note, let’s get started with what causes chest pain—or that pain in the lungs.

1. Pleurisy

When there is inflammation of the membrane, or pleura, that covers the inner side of your chest cavity and surrounding lung tissue, you may experience chest pain that worsens when you cough, sneeze, or inhale.

Pleurisy will result from a lung or respiratory infection.

2. Asthma

Many people associate asthma with wheezing, but other symptoms are present as well. While some only experience a cough, tightness in the chest due to persistent coughing is also quite common.

A sensation that feels like lung pain may also occur during severe asthma attacks.

3. Smoking

Most people know that smoking is bad for the lungs. In fact, common side effects of smoking include chest pain and chest tightness.

Chest pain is one of the characteristic features of breathing in smoke deeply. It is not normal for the body to inhale any lit substance for an extended time period, and that especially includes cigarettes.

Coughing, lowered immunity, and inflammation from smoking are the likely cause of that pain in your chest or lung area.

4. Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a very serious, potentially life-threatening condition that results from a blood clot in the lungs. This can damage part of the lung, since it reduces blood oxygen levels and restricts blood flow.

Chest pain in the lung area and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism. Other symptoms include fainting, low blood pressure, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, and coughing up blood.

5. Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax is when air becomes trapped next to a lung. Part of your lung will collapse, and this releases air into your chest cavity.

As a result, chest pain that worsens from breathing is a common symptom. Pneumothorax can also develop from complications of a lung disease or chest injury.

6. Pneumonia

Lung infections like pneumonia can also cause various types of chest pain, such as pleurisy and deep chest aches. Chest pain is especially frequent with movement and heavy breathing.

Pneumonia often occurs suddenly, and can be either a viral or bacterial infection. Other symptoms of pneumonia include chills, fever, coughing, coughing up mucus, wheezing and shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and fatigue.

7. Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion, or chest cavity fluid, occurs when there is fluid build-up in your chest wall and lungs. As a result, chest pain is a common symptom.

This condition is often a complication of severe problems like cancer, a lung infection, heart failure, or pancreatitis.

Other common symptoms include low oxygen levels, a fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

8. Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs. The condition results when blood vessels in the lungs become blocked.

Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are often mistaken for simply being out of shape, and include chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, achy joints, and getting tired easily.

Diseases sometimes associated with pulmonary hypertension include cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and occupational lung diseases.

Other possible causes include chronic liver diseases, scleroderma, heart failure, and losing lung tissue from surgery.

9. Costochondritis

Costochondritis is a condition described as cartilage inflammation that connects the breastbone and the ribs.

Chest wall pain is a common symptom of costochondritis. It can also a sharp pain that radiates to the back and abdomen.

This type of chest or lung pain can worsen from sneezing, coughing, laughing, deep breathing, and lying down.

10. Heart Attack

Cardiovascular disease in the form of a heart attack is a common condition that can cause chest pain.

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a medical emergency where the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, and often due to a blood clot.

Although similar to angina chest pain, a heart attack is often more severe. As a result, a person will experience pain in the center or left part of the chest, and also pain under the left rib cage.

Other symptoms will include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, sweating, weakness, and anxiety.

11. Angina

The first stage of heart disease is called angina, where there is a restriction of blood or oxygen flow to the heart. When blood flow stops, this leads to a heart attack.

Mild to severe chest pain and discomfort associated with angina is a heavy, dull, or tight pain that sometimes spreads to the neck, back, jaw, or left arm.

Stress or physical activity often triggers angina, which usually lasts just a few minutes. Shortness of breath and fatigue are other common symptoms of angina.

12. Pericarditis

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium—also known as the protective area or sac around the heart. The condition causes a chest pain similar to angina.

Pericarditis is often a sharp and steady pain under the left rib cage that also often occurs along the upper neck and shoulder muscle.

This type of chest pain frequently worsens from swallowing, breathing, and lying on your back.

13. Acid Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is often called heartburn, and it affects the esophagus when stomach contents move back into the throat.

The most common symptoms of GERD include chest pain in the lung area, a burning sensation in the throat or chest, a sour taste in the mouth, and wheezing and difficulty breathing.

14. Esophageal Spasm

Normal contractions of the esophagus will move food from the mouth to the stomach with a coordinated rhythm. Esophageal spasms are irregular and uncoordinated esophagus contractions.

Esophageal contraction disorders include uncoordinated muscle contractions, or spasms, and high-pressure contractions, which are both esophagus problems that cause chest or lung pain.

15. Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is another frequent cause of chest pain in lungs. It is deep and rapid breathing, and is sometimes called over-breathing.

Hyperventilation can occur during panic attacks and anxiety episodes. Other symptoms of hyperventilation include headaches, dizziness, numbness and tingling, dry mouth, bloating, sleeping problems, and difficulty with focus and concentration.

Your Lung Pain Is Likely General Chest Pain

Whenever you experience persistent chest or lung pain, you should see your doctor immediately.

Contact your doctor if your lung pain comes on suddenly, you experience lightheadedness or shortness of breath, or the pain radiates down your arm and to your jaw or back.

Remember that if you feel left lung pain, general chest pain is likely the problem.

A number of causes of this lung or chest pain include:

  • pleurisy
  • asthma
  • smoking
  • pulmonary embolism
  • pneumonia
  • pneumothorax
  • pleural effusion
  • pulmonary hypertension
  • costochondritis
  • heart attack
  • angina
  • pericarditis
  • acid reflux
  • esophageal spasms
  • hyperventilation

In some cases, lung cancer may even be at the root of your lung pain.

The treatment of chest or lung pain will depend on the cause. Please consult your doctor to help determine the cause of your lung pain.

Also Read:


Article Sources (+)

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“Pulmonary Hypertension,” Cedars-Sinai; https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Pulmonary-Hypertension.aspx, last accessed Nov. 29, 2017.
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