If you have asthma, a respiratory condition that causes breathing difficulties, you might experience chest pain. This symptom is common right before or during an asthma attack. The discomfort may feel like a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain. Some describe it as if they have a heavy brick sitting on their chest.
While chest pain isn’t unusual in people with asthma, it could be a sign of another condition. Read on to learn about what causes chest pain in people with asthma, how to treat it, and when you should seek help.
How common is chest pain in people with asthma?
Chest pain or tightness is common in people with asthma. In one emergency department survey, 76 percent of people with asthma reported chest pain.
Chest pain is known as a subjective symptom. A subjective symptom is one that doctors can’t measure. Instead, they must rely on a description of the pain.
This symptom is usually one of many that someone with asthma experiences. However, a study published in 2013 suggested that chest tightness may be the only symptom for some people with asthma.
Asthma and chest pain
If you have asthma, your immune system can cause your airways to become inflamed and swollen when you’re around certain irritants. This can lead to chest tightness, pressure, or pain.
Studies show that chest pain, along with other non-respiratory symptoms, frequently occur before or during an asthma attack. If you experience chest pain after an asthma attack, it could be because you’re sore from the coughing, deep breathing, or other symptoms you experienced.
Coughing, deep breathing, and changing positions can all worsen chest pain in people with asthma.
Some common asthma triggers include:
- pet dander
- dust mites
- tobacco smoke
- upper respiratory infections
- cold, dry air
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when contents in your stomach back up into your esophagus
Treating asthma chest pain
Before treating your symptoms, your doctor will want to make sure your chest pain is caused by asthma and not any other conditions.
If you experience chest pain due to asthma, your physician will probably prescribe an individualized treatment plan. Follow their instructions carefully to lessen your chances of developing symptoms.
When you’re having an asthma attack, you may be told to use an emergency or rescue inhaler to relax your airways and improve your symptoms. In one study, using inhaled albuterol resulted in improvement in 70 percent of children and adolescents with asthma-induced chest pain who performed exercises on a treadmill.
The best way to prevent chest pain caused by asthma is to follow the treatment plan provided by your doctor. Try not to miss any doses of medicine, and avoid potential asthma triggers if possible.
Chest pain is a common symptom of asthma, but it could also be a sign of something else. Let your doctor know right away if you experience chest pain so you can get an accurate diagnosis. With the right treatment approach, this unwelcome symptom can be effectively controlled.
Other causes for chest pain
Asthma may not be the reason for your chest pain. Several other conditions can also cause this symptom.
Serious heart issues can manifest as pain in the chest area, including:
- heart attack, which occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the heart
- angina, a condition in which plaques, or fatty deposits, narrow arteries and restrict your heart’s blood supply
- aortic dissection, a condition in which your heart’s main artery ruptures
- pericarditis, which is an inflammation around the sac surrounding your heart
Chest pain or discomfort is often a hallmark sign of a panic attack. You may also feel like your heart is racing and experience shortness of breath.
A bruised or broken rib is sometimes to blame for chest pain.
Pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, cause persistent sore muscles that you might feel in the chest area. You may also feel chest pain if you’ve recently lifted weights or done other exercises that involved your chest muscles.
With this condition, the cartilage of your rib cage becomes inflamed and painful. That sometimes causes chest pain.
If a blood clot travels to the lung, it can cause chest pain.
This condition, which is characterized by high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs, can produce discomfort in the chest.
When air leaks into the area between the lungs and ribs, your lung can collapse. Many people experience chest pain when this happens.
If the membrane that covers your lungs is inflamed, chest pain can occur.
The blisters caused by the shingles virus can extend to the area around your chest wall, leading to discomfort.
Many of the conditions that cause chest pain are considered serious or life-threatening. It’s best to seek emergency medical care if you have unexplained chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes.