Causes of Chest Pain When Breathing

There are various causes of chest pain when breathing. Some are more serious than others. Learn more about it in this article.
Causes of Chest Pain When Breathing

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Sometimes, our chests hurt when we breathe and there are many possible reasons why. Some of them are quite serious, so you shouldn’t overlook this issue. In general, all chest pain is enough reason to go and see a doctor as soon as possible. So, what are the causes of chest pain when breathing? Keep reading to find out.

Normally, chest pain is associated with lung or heart problems. This symptom is caused by different conditions, but chest pains alone won’t help you figure out the issue. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor. 

As you can tell, it’s not easy to figure out why you’re chest might be hurting when you breathe. However, we’ve listed some of the most common reasons.

Pleurisy: a cause of chest pain when breathing

A woman with chest pain

Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura. The pleura is a membrane with two layers. One of these layers lines the inner area of the rib cage and the other layer surrounds the lungs. When inflamed, it causes quite severe chest pain, which worsens when we breathe.

In fact, the main symptom of pleurisy is pain that increases when you breathe in and out. Also, it’s common for affected people to feel like they aren’t getting enough air. This is because the person tries to breathe very gently so they won’t increase the discomfort. Sometimes, the pain spreads to the shoulders and back. 

Sometimes, fluid builds up between the two layers of the pleura. This is known as pleural effusion. If there’s a lot of fluid, it’ll put pressure on the lung that could lead to it partially or totally collapsing. This causes a cough and increased shortness of breath.


Pericarditis is another condition that will make your chest hurt when you breathe. This condition is an inflammation of the pericardium, which is a membrane that surrounds the heart. It has two layers and, when inflamed, the fluid level between the layers increases. This puts pressure on the heart and limits its pumping. 

The main symptom of pericarditis is severe pain on the left side of the chest. This pain increases when we breathe, especially if we breathe breathing deeply. Also, the pain worsens when lying down and is usually accompanied by a cough, fever, and a general feeling of discomfort.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when a blood clot from one part of the body reaches the pulmonary arteries. Generally, this thrombus, or blood clot, comes from the body’s lower extremities. 

The symptoms of pulmonary embolisms aren’t always the same. However, it’s very common to experience acute chest pain, which increases with moderate to deep breathing. In addition, it causes dizziness, agitation, anxiety, fainting and/ or seizures, among other issues.

Pneumothorax or lung collapse

Lung collapse, or pneumothorax, is a condition that occurs when air escapes from the lung and settles between the rib and the lung itself. This accumulation of air puts a lot of pressure on the lung and prevents it from expanding normally when we breathe.

The typical symptom of pneumothorax is a sharp pain in the chest, which is increased by breathing and coughing. People may also experience shortness of breath and chest tightness. Also, sometimes it causes dizziness and lightheadedness, as well as a bluish skin color, increased heart rate, and shock.


Pneumonia may be another cause of your chest pain when breathing. This is an infection that causes inflammation in one or both of the lungs’ air sacs. These sacs can fill with fluid or pus, causing a strong, phlegmy, or pus-filled cough. Pneumonia varies in severity and can be life-threatening.

One of the characteristic symptoms is a pain in the chest when breathing or coughing. There’s also cough, fatigue, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and, in some cases, disorientation or changes in mental function.


Costochondritis is an inflammation that occurs in the cartilage between the ribs and the chest bone or sternum. This inflammation causes severe pain in the chest, which is often mistaken for a heart attack.
The pain is noticeably increased with deep breathing or coughing. The cause of this condition is unknown, but it usually goes away on its own after a few days or weeks.

Do you have chest pain when you breathe? If so, we encourage you to consult your doctor as soon as possible so that they can give you a complete check-up and tell you what you have and how you should take care of yourself.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.