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Chest Pain When Breathing

Chest Pain When Breathing

While chest pain is often associated with heart problems, pain in the chest could be caused by musculoskeletal problems, lung conditions, or traumatic rib injuries. The following write-up provides information on the circumstances under which a person may experience chest pain when breathing.
Preeti Dixit
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
Since chest pain is believed to be a characteristic sign of cardiac problems such as coronary artery disease or a heart attack, a person who experiences a feeling of pressure or pain in the chest may feel apprehensive, thinking of the pain to be a sign of the onset of a cardiovascular disease. However, it must be noted that chest pain is not always an indicator of heart diseases.
Chest pain when breathing could be attributed to a condition which may be non-cardiac in origin. The pain could arise due to conditions associated with the musculoskeletal system or the respiratory system. Pain in the chest could even be psychogenic in nature. The location, nature, or the intensity of pain could provide valuable information that may assist the doctors to zero in on the underlying cause. A physical examination and imaging studies are usually conducted to diagnose the medical condition that is responsible for causing chest pain.
Contributing Factors
Some of the medical conditions that could cause chest pain may not be of a serious nature, while others could be life-threatening in the absence of prompt medical treatment. Medical help must therefore be sought by an individual who has been experiencing pain in the chest region. Here are some of the common causes of chest pain while breathing.
Pleurisy refers to the inflammation of the lining of the pleural cavity. Though a viral infection is one of the most common causes of pleurisy, it could also be caused by a rib injury, formation of blood clot in the lungs, mesothelioma, or autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The main symptoms of this condition include:

► Acute chest pain while breathing
► Pain when taking deep breaths
► Shortness of breath
► Fever
► Chills
► Dry cough

Though the affected individual may experience a sharp stabbing pain in the chest region, pleurisy could even cause a dull chest pain that may be accompanied by a burning sensation.
Pneumonia is a respiratory condition that is caused due to an infection in the lungs. It occurs due to the exposure to disease-causing agents such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. A lung infection could occur when pathogens enter the lungs and multiply. The immune system may then respond by sending immune cells to the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs that are present in the lungs. The characteristic symptoms of pneumonia include:
► Labored breathing
► Sharp chest pain when breathing deeply
► Fever
► Shaking chills
► Productive cough
► Shortness of breath
► Sweating
► Muscle pain
If left untreated, pneumonia could become life-threatening. Medical help must be sought if a person is exhibiting any of the aforementioned symptoms.
Pneumothorax, which is commonly known as a collapsed lung, occurs when air accumulates in the pleural space. The lungs are lined by a two-layered serous membrane called pleura. The space between the inner layer and the outer layer is filled with a small amount of fluid. When air accumulates within this pleural space, pressure builds up over the lungs. The lungs are unable to expand during inhalation due to the pressure exerted by air. This causes the lungs to collapse. A strong blow to the chest, puncture wounds, or lung infections could make a person susceptible to pneumothorax. A collapsed lung could even cause a buildup of fluid in lungs, thereby causing a dip in the levels of oxygen in the blood. This could give rise to distressing symptoms such as:
► A feeling of pressure in the chest
► Fatigue
► Shortness of breath
► Chest pain while breathing
Mild cases of pneumothorax may resolve on their own, but severe cases need immediate medical attention.
Pulmonary Hypertension
Pulmonary hypertension is a medical condition that is characterized by very high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which are arteries that carry deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs. Various medical conditions could lead to pulmonary hypertension. Congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, chronic lung disease, pulmonary embolism (presence of blood clot in the lungs), and the prolonged use of certain drugs could cause elevated blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. The common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include:
► Labored breathing
► Heart palpitations
► Dizziness
► Pain or a feeling of pressure in the chest
► Bluish discoloration of the skin
The treatment usually involves the use of drugs such as calcium channel blockers, diuretics, endothelin receptor antagonists, etc. Oxygen therapy may be required when the patient has low oxygen levels in blood.
Pleural Effusion
The pleural space refers to the space between the parietal pleura and the visceral pleura. The parietal pleura lines the walls of the chest cavity, whereas the visceral pleura lines the lungs. A small amount of fluid is normally present within the pleural space. This fluid helps the two membranes to slide against each other without friction during respiration. Pleural effusion is a medical condition that is characterized by the excessive accumulation of fluid within the pleural space. Chest pain that occurs while taking deep breaths is one of the most characteristic symptoms of this condition. Other symptoms of pleural effusion include:
► Shortness of breath
► Cough
► Rapid breathing
The treatment usually involves the drainage of fluid. Thoracentesis, which refers to the removal of fluid from the pleural space, helps to alleviate the symptoms. Drug therapy may also be required.
Panic Attack
Panic attacks are episodes of acute anxiety that may occur when a person is faced with situations that may evoke intense fear or anxiety. Some people may be genetically predisposed to panic attacks. The use of stimulants could sometimes trigger a panic attack. Abrupt withdrawal of alcohol or certain drugs could also be a contributing factor. Panic attacks are characterized by symptoms such as:
► Increased heart rate
► Chest pain
► Shortness of breath
► Sweating
► Sensation of choking
► Lightheadedness
The treatment usually involves psychotherapy and the use of drugs such as mild sedatives, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, etc.
Pulmonary Embolism
This is a condition wherein one or more arteries that supply blood to the lungs get clogged. The blockage usually occurs due to the presence of a blood clot in the artery. The symptoms of this condition include:

Sudden chest pain while breathing
Shortness of breath
Coughing up blood
Bluish discoloration of the skin

Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, if not treated promptly with anticoagulants (blood thinners) or thrombolytics (clot dissolvers). In some cases, the use of vein filters may be suggested. Surgery may be resorted to, if the other treatment options don't work.
Costochondritis, which is commonly referred to as chest wall pain, refers to the inflammation of costal cartilages that attach the ends of the true ribs to the sternum. Trauma to the rib cage due to a fall, motor vehicle accident, or physical assault could cause this condition. Inflammation in the costosternal joint could also be caused due to respiratory infections. The intercostal muscles help the ribcage to expand and drop during inhalation and exhalation, which is why, inflammation of the costal cartilage often causes painful breathing. The other symptoms of costochondritis include:

Dull, gnawing chest pain
Tenderness of the chest
Pain that worsens on moving the torso
Pain that worsens on taking deep breaths

The treatment often involves the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants. Application of heating pads or ice packs may help to some extent.

Pericarditis refers to the inflammation of the pericardium, which is a thin serous membrane that surrounds the heart. Systemic inflammatory disorders (rheumatoid arthritis or lupus), or trauma to the chest region could be responsible for causing pericarditis. The symptoms of pericarditis include:

► Low-grade fever
► Malaise
► Sharp pain in the left side or the center of the chest
► Shortness of breath in a reclining position
► Cough

The treatment usually involves the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, and corticosteroids.
Rib Injuries
Another possible cause of chest pain is a bruised, cracked, or fractured rib. Blunt trauma to the chest, rib injury during a motor vehicle accident, or a fall from a height could cause the ribs to fracture. Such injuries are most likely to cause chest pain when breathing. The other symptoms that may be experienced by an affected individual include:

Pain in the affected area
Pain on moving the torso
Pain while taking deep breaths
Pain while coughing or sneezing
The application of heating pads, and the use of drugs (painkillers, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs) may be suggested for treating bruised or cracked ribs. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended.
Chest pain could be caused by serious medical conditions, which is why, medical help must be sought by anyone who experiences a dull or sharp chest pain. Do inform your doctor about the symptoms that accompany this pain, as that can help them in diagnosing the underlying cause.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.