The Causes of Chest Pain When Coughing

15 August, 2019
Chest pain when coughing is a very common symptom in people who suffer from certain respiratory system conditions. In this article, discover the possible causes.

Feeling chest pain when coughing can be alarming. People often associate it with the lungs or heart and believe it’s a sign of a major health problem.

The Causes of Chest Pain when Coughing

A woman with chest pain.

This pain is very common in people who suffer from certain respiratory system conditions. Below, we explain the possible causes.

The flu

Influenza is one of the most common viral infections worldwide. It usually manifests abruptly, with severe symptoms from almost the first moment. The main symptoms of the flu are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle and chest pain

Flu symptoms tend to be more serious and long-lasting than those of a cold. It’s normal to have chest pain in case of the flu, which can worsen if the patient also has a cough.

You may also enjoy the following article: The Main Differences between a Cold and the Flu

Common cold

A cold is a viral infectious respiratory condition. It’s more common in children than in adults and its symptoms are stronger in the first three days.

However, in addition to general malaise, sore throat, and increased mucus, cough is one of the most common symptoms. If it occurs repeatedly, it may even cause chest pain.

Cold symptoms manifest progressively after the third day of exposure and last for about a week. The main symptoms of a cold are:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

The fact that it affects the respiratory system is what makes it one of the leading causes of chest pain when coughing.

Acute bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi. After bronchi infection or inflammation, the ability to breathe decreases. The symptoms that bronchitis causes are:

  • Wheezing
  • Mucus
  • Cough
  • Chest and back pain

The main cause of acute bronchitis is usually a viral infection. It’s often the result of a badly treated cold. However, it may also be caused by a bacterial infection.

Asthma and chest pain when coughing

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the narrowing of the airways as a result of inflammation. Asthma affects the airways, inflaming and narrowing them.

If not diagnosed and treated properly, it’s very common to suffer shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest pain when coughing. Here are some of the symptoms of asthma:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough with mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain when coughing

You should also read: Stabbing Chest Pains: When to Worry


Pneumothorax, also known as lung collapse, occurs when the lung is perforated and air escapes from it.

The direct consequence of pneumothorax is that the space around the lungs fills up with air. This doesn’t allow it to expand, causing obvious symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

The pressure that the air out of the lungs causes leads to chest pain that worsens when coughing.

Musculoskeletal injuries and chest pain when coughing

When someone suffers an injury to the chest muscles or bones or those near it, the pain will intensify when coughing. Fractures or cracks in the ribs, rib cage, sternum, or spine cause severe chest pain when coughing, pain that can also manifest when breathing, standing, or doing certain movements.


A woman coughing.

All the ribs except the last two are connected to the sternum by cartilage. When this cartilage becomes inflamed, it causes an injury known as costochondritis or costosternal syndrome.

The main consequence is a sharp chest pain that worsens when coughing or doing certain movements. Costochondritis is one of the main causes of this pain. Its main causes are:

  • Thoracic injuries
  • Lifting weights
  • Infections in the airways
  • Overexertion when coughing
  • Certain types of arthritis


As you’ve seen, this pain can be caused by different infectious processes and conditions. Therefore, if your chest pain isn’t due to a simple cold, it’s best to consult a specialist.

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  • Santos González, G., Arrola Cantero, I., & Herrero Terradillos, P. (2011). Caso clínico: Dolor torácico, angor o fibromialgia. Enfermería En Cardiología: Revista Científica e Informativa de La Asociación Española de Enfermería En Cardiología.

  • Cabañero, A., Sueiro, A., & García, L. (2014). Neumotórax espontáneo. Medicine (Spain).