People often cite “lung pain” to describe the pain they feel in their chest. But this is a misleading term. Your lungs have very few pain receptors, so they don’t typically process pain. This can make it difficult to tell the source of your pain and which organs are involved.

If you think you feel left lung pain, you’re probably experiencing general chest pain. Keep reading to learn what may be causing this pain and when you should see your doctor.

Left lung pain isn’t a condition — it’s a symptom. If you feel pain in your chest, it may be related to any organ system within your chest or abdomen. This includes the lungs, heart, and the intestinal tract.

Here are the most common lung-related conditions that can cause pain in your lungs or chest. If your pain persists, or if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below, see your doctor.

Pleurisy

Pleurisy happens when the membrane, or pleura, that lines the inner side of your chest cavity and surrounding lung tissue becomes inflamed. This is commonly a result of a lung or respiratory infection.

Symptoms include sharp chest pain. This pain is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or sneezing.

Infection

A number of lung infections can cause chest pain.

Common infections include:

Symptoms vary among infections, but common symptoms are:

  • shortness of breath
  • excess phlegm and mucus
  • cough with or without blood
  • fever
  • chills or night sweats

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor. If left untreated, any lung infection has the potential to become life-threatening.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic and long-term lung disease that causes irritable, narrow, and inflamed airways. During an asthma attack, your chest will feel tight, causing pain.

Asthma symptoms also include:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing

Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in your lungs. This can be life-threatening.

A pulmonary embolism can damage part of the lung because it restricts blood flow and lowers the blood oxygen level. The most common symptom is chest pain and shortness of breath.

It can also cause:

  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • coughing up blood
  • fainting
  • low blood pressure

If you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms of pulmonary embolism, seek immediate medical attention.

Lung collapse

Pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung, happens when air enters the area between your chest wall and your lung.

A partial or total collapsed lung can happen because of:

  • a ventilator
  • chest or abdominal surgery
  • chest injury
  • lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • lung cancer

If lung collapse occurs, you may experience:

  • persistent chest pain
  • respiratory failure
  • cardiac arrest
  • shock

If you think your lung has collapsed, contact your local emergency services.

Fluid in the chest

Pleural effusion, or fluid in the chest cavity, happens when fluid builds up between your lungs and your chest wall.

This is typically a complication from other serious problems in the body, so it’s important to find out the cause. A pleural effusion can occur as a result of heart failure, a lung infection, cancer, or an acute medical condition like pancreatitis.

In addition to chest pain, this can cause:

  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • fever
  • low oxygen levels

Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation can happen during anxiety or panic attacks. It can also be a response to certain conditions in your body. When you hyperventilate, you are breathing too rapidly.

When this occurs, you upset the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide causing:

  • dizziness
  • numbness and tingling
  • headache
  • difficulty with concentration and focus

Some conditions can cause chest pain even though they aren’t related to the lungs or their function. These includes:

Costochondritis

Costochondritis happens when the cartilage of your rib cage becomes inflamed, causing intense pain. Chest pain is the main symptom of costochondritis and can be mild or severe. Pain can also spread to the back.

Costochondritis often results from heavy lifting or new routines in an exercise regimen.

If you think you’re experiencing costochondritis, see your doctor. Although it isn’t life-threatening, the pain can be persistent and interfere with daily activities. As with any chest pain, it is always important to know the cause so that it can be properly treated.

Heart disease

Heart disease and other heart-related conditions can cause chest pain.

These conditions include:

Symptoms vary across conditions, but can also include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • unexplained sweating
  • chills
  • trouble breathing
  • swelling of legs and feet

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart-related condition, seek immediate medical attention. In many cases, heart related conditions can be life-threatening.

Rheumatic heart disease

Rheumatic heart disease, in particular, can cause lung or chest pain. This condition can result from rheumatic fever, a complication of bacterial strep infection. Rheumatic heart disease can damage the valves of your heart.

If the heart valves become damaged, in addition to chest pain, people can also experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • decreased ability to exercise
  • swelling of legs and feet
  • palpitations

Shingles

Shingles is the reactivated chicken pox virus. The infection often appears on the chest.

It can cause an intense, burning pain, usually on only one side of the chest. The pain will occur before any signs of the infection are present.

Within a few days, red, painful, and sometimes itchy blisters will appear in a band. This will cover a section of the chest, often wrapping around from back to front.

If you experience pain and a rash on your chest or side, it’s important to see your doctor right away. There are medications that can be used to treat both the infection and the pain.

Acid reflux

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid comes up into the esophagus. Chest pain is a common sign of acid reflux. The pain can feel intense and last longer than expected, which leads some people to mistake acid reflux for a heart attack.

Other symptoms include:

  • heartburn
  • stomach pain
  • burping and excess gas
  • indigestion

Keep reading: Why does it hurt to breathe? »

The pain you feel may not be in your lungs at all, but in the general area of your lungs.

In most cases, this is due to:

Pressure

Pressure is a symptom of many diseases that causes pain near the lungs.

Pressure can be felt with:

Chest wall pain

Chest wall pain can occur with chest injuries, such as broken or bruised ribs, and bruising to the chest itself. Chronic muscle and skeletal syndromes such as fibromyalgia can also cause pain throughout the chest. Chest wall pain can cause you to feel pain anywhere in the chest.

Inflammation and irritation in the abdomen

Inflammation within the abdominal cavity can also lead to chest pain.

This can include problems with the:

  • gallbladder
  • pancreas
  • stomach
  • intestines

Causes can include:

The pain you feel within your chest most likely isn’t lung cancer, but it’s important to know your risk.

Current smoking or a history of smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Smoking is associated with 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancers.

Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • a cough that gets worse or won’t go away
  • coughing up blood or rust-colored spit or phlegm
  • hoarseness
  • weight loss
  • appetite loss
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • persistent lung infections

Often lung cancer isn’t recognized until it has spread to other body parts.

Lung cancer that has spread may cause:

  • bone pain, such as back pain or hip pain
  • headaches
  • weakness
  • dizziness and balance issues
  • seizures
  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Although these symptoms may be related to other underlying conditions, it’s important to know the cause. Your doctor will work with you to determine the correct diagnosis and treatment.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you feel:

  • unexplained chest pain
  • pressure, fullness, or tightness in your chest
  • intense pain that spreads through your back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and your left arm
  • unexplained sweating
  • dizziness, nausea, or weakness
  • shortness of breath

You should also see your doctor if your chest pain feels worse with deep breaths, coughing, or laughing. In many cases, your chest pain will clear up on its own in a day or two. If the pain persists or is intense, you should see your doctor.

Your doctor will ask you to list what you’re feeling, your medical history, and any medications you’re taking. Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to diagnose the cause of your pain.

To do this, they will:

  • observe your breathing
  • assess your airflow
  • check for signs of other problems, such as blue nail beds or yellow skin
  • listen to your heart sounds and breath sounds
  • check your oxygen level

Your doctor may also order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your pain:

What you should expect in the short- and long-term depends on the type, severity, and cause of your symptoms.

For example, if you’re experiencing acid reflux, you may have to change your diet and start taking medication. But if you have had a pulmonary embolism, you may require hospitalization for several days and long-term treatment with blood thinners.

Treatment also depends on the reason behind your chest pain. It’s important to determine if the cause of the pain is lung-related or not. Once you have a diagnosis, you and your doctor will be able to come up with a proper treatment plan that may include medications, surgery, or other procedures.