Potential causes of lung pain include respiratory infection, pleurisy, tuberculosis, pneumonia, asthma, or pulmonary embolism. Pain in the lung area may also be related to heart or intestinal tract issues.

People often cite “lung pain” to describe the pain they feel in their chest. However, your lungs have very few pain receptors, which can make it difficult to tell the source of your pain and which organs are involved.

If you think you feel lung pain, you may be experiencing general chest pain. Keep reading to learn what may be causing this pain and when it’s important to see a doctor.

Pain in your chest and around your lungs may relate to any organ system within your chest or abdomen. This includes the:

  • lungs
  • heart
  • intestinal tract

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

Lung-related causes

A variety of conditions affecting your lungs may cause symptoms of lung pain. These include infections, diseases, and other medical issues.


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

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


A variety of lung infections can cause chest pain. Common infections include:

Symptoms vary among infections, but it’s common to have:

Lung infections can become life threatening. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, see a doctor.


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

Asthma symptoms also include:

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in your lungs. This can be life threatening.

A pulmonary embolism can damage part of the lung or other organs 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:

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

Lung collapse

Pneumothorax causes the lung to collapse. It happens when air enters the area between your chest wall and your lung.

Atelectasis is a collapse due to pressure outside the lung, stopping it from expanding properly. It can also result from a lack of surfactant. This is a foamy substance inside the sacs of the lungs that keeps them open. Atelectasis can cause short, sharp lung pains and may only affect a portion of the lung.

A partial or total collapsed lung can happen because of:

If lung collapse occurs, you may experience:

  • persistent chest pain
  • respiratory failure
  • cardiac arrest
  • shock
  • low oxygen levels

Pneumothorax can be a complication of COVID-19 and has become much more common. In these instances, a person may experience sudden onset sharp chest pain and frequently require supplementary oxygen.

Doctors may treat this with supplemental oxygen in mild cases. In severe cases, a person may require surgical intervention.

If you experience symptoms of a lung collapse, contact your local emergency services immediately.

Fluid in the chest

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

This is typically a complication from other serious problems in the body. The cause determines the type of pleural effusion you have.

In exudative effusion, fluids build up from infection, inflammation, a lung injury, or a tumor.

In contrast, in transudative pleural effusion, fluids build up because of pressure from blood vessels caused by heart failure or kidney failure.

In addition to chest pain, this can cause:

  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • fever


Hyperventilationcan 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, which can cause:

  • chest tightness
  • dizziness
  • numbness and tingling
  • headache
  • nausea
  • difficulty with concentration and focus

Muscle-related causes

Chest wall pain can occur with chest injuries, such as broken or bruised ribs, pulled muscles, and bruising to the chest itself.

Chronic muscle and skeletal syndromes such as fibromyalgia can also cause pain throughout the chest. Musculoskeletal conditions lead to around 10 to 50 percent of chest pain.

Heart-related causes

Many heart conditions can cause chest pain and shortness of breath. Sometimes it may be difficult to tell whether the issue is in your heart or your lungs.

Heart disease

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

Symptoms vary across conditions. Besides chest pain, symptoms can also include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • chills
  • swelling of legs and feet

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart-related condition, seek immediate medical attention. In many cases, these 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, you may experience:

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

Gastrointestinal-related causes

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, which leads some people to mistake acid reflux for a heart attack.

Other symptoms include:

Other causes

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

Costochondritis happens when the cartilage of your rib cage becomes inflamed, causing intense pain. Chest pain is a main symptom of costochondritis and can be mild or severe. The pain may worsen with movement.

Costochondritis often results from strenuous exercise or a respiratory disease.

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

Pain in your chest or abdomen can sometimes feel like it’s coming from your lungs.

For example, if you experience muscle or bone damage around your chest, this may feel like the pain is originating in your lungs themselves.

Conditions involving other organs within the abdominal cavity may also result in pain around the lower end of your rib cage or in your chest. These conditions can include:

You may mistake this for lung pain.

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 around 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States.

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
  • chest pain that gets worse with coughing or breathing deeply
  • hoarseness
  • weight loss
  • appetite loss
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • persistent lung infections

People may not realize they have lung cancer until it begins to spread to other parts of the body.

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, it’s important to see a doctor. These symptoms may be related to other underlying conditions. Still, finding the cause will help determine the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor will ask you to list:

  • what you’re feeling
  • your medical history
  • any medications you’re taking

They will also perform a physical exam. The exam may include:

  • listening to your heartbeat and breathing
  • assessing your airflow
  • checking your oxygen level
  • feeling for tenderness in the painful area (for some conditions)

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

It’s important to 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, or your arm
  • unexplained sweating
  • dizziness, nausea, or weakness
  • shortness of breath

You should also see your doctor if your chest pain feels worse when you take a deep breath, laugh, or cough. If the pain persists or is intense, speak with your doctor.

The cause and severity of your symptoms will affect your next steps.

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

It’s important to determine if the cause of your pain is lung-related or not. Once you have a diagnosis, you and your doctor will be able to come up with a treatment plan that may include medications, lifestyle changes, or other procedures.