Why Does My Chest Hurt When I Breathe?

Chest pain is any pain that you feel in your chest area from your shoulders to the bottom of your rib cage. It's a fairly common symptom and can be caused from many different things. It may be challenging to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain without running a few tests. It's important to take all chest pain seriously until an exact cause is known, it may be indicative of a serious condition and you wouldn't want to miss something by dismissing it as insignificant. If you're wondering “Why does my chest hurt when I breathe”, read on for more information.

Why Does My Chest Hurt When I Breathe?

There are a variety of reasons that you may have chest pain when you're breathing. Each time you take in a breath and then breathe it back out, your ribs will move in rhythm with your breathing to help accommodate the increase and decrease in your lung capacity. In the event you strain a rib by pulling or lifting something incorrectly, you're going to have pain when you breathe.

Additionally, there is a condition called pleurisy wherein you can get an infection or inflammation in the lining surrounding your lungs. This is common if you've had bronchitis or another condition that causes a lot of coughing. It can be excruciatingly painful to breathe if you have pleurisy. Your doctor can best diagnose such a condition and give you the right medications to help ease your pain.

You may also have pulled a muscle elsewhere around chest area and you may be having what is called, “referred pain”. In referred pain, your pain from a back injury may be causing you to have pain while breathing and easily be mistaken for rib pain.

For older patients, they could have osteoporosis and have pain from that, causing their chest to hurt when they are breathing.

Besides the above mentioned, here are the common causes explained:

  • GERD or Gastro esophageal reflux disease in which the stomach acid backs up into the throat can cause a burning sensation. Besides chest pain, symptoms also include bad taste in mouth which is worse when you eat, lie down or bend over.
  • Lung problems such as a lung infection or bronchitis may cause chest pain. This usually presents as sharp chest pain getting worse when you take a breath. Other symptoms include breathlessness and coughing.
  • Asthma is a shortness of breath or wheezing along with coughing and may at times be painful. It can happen to anyone at any time. Often asthma is diagnosed in childhood but it can also be diagnosed in adulthood as well. If you have asthma your doctor will prescribe medications for you.
  • Peptic ulcers may cause the lining of the stomach or the intestines to be painful.
  • Acute cholecystitis or inflammation of the gallbladder may cause sharp sudden pain in your upper right side of your stomach and it may radiate out toward the right chest and shoulder. When you take a breath, it can worsen.
  • Pulmonary embolism or a blockage of blood in a blood vessel that is carrying blood from your heart to your lungs can cause sharp stabbing pains that may be worse upon taking a breath.
  • Pericarditis or inflammation in the sac that surrounds the heart. This may cause a sharp sudden pain in your chest or it may be more of a dull ache. It will likely be worse if you lie down.
  • Hiatal Hernia or the top of the stomach pressing into your lower chest after you've eaten. It may be a burning such as heartburn or it may be full on chest pain. It will be worse when you lie down.

When to Worry

If you find yourself asking “Why does my chest hurt when I breathe?” you may wish to read the following on when you should call for an ambulance:

  • If you suddenly develop severe chest pain and it is heavy or pressing
  • If pain lasts more than 15 minutes
  • If the pain is spreading out toward your arms, back and jaw
  • If you feel breathless, nauseated, are coughing up blood or sweating
  • If you're at risk for any type of coronary heart conditions, i.e., you are a smoker, overweight or have high blood pressure.

Also, if you're diabetic or have high cholesterol you should call immediately for an ambulance as well.

Can It Be a Heart Issue?

Why does my chest hurt when i breathe? Can it be a problem with my heart? Only your doctor can answer this question. It's important to not panic but to note that chest pain isn't always a heart issue. If it is, watch out for:


It may be that you're having angina where your blood supply to your heart muscle is somewhat restricted. Angina is triggered by doing something physical such as stretching, lifting, pulling etc. It may even be brought on by emotional stress such as being upset unexpectedly or finding something devastating out. Typically, angina is relieved within a few minutes of rest.

If you've ever been diagnosed with angina, you may have medication from your doctor for the future. If so, try it. It may be all that is required to stop your pain and your angina attack.

Heart Attack

It may be a heart attack and the blood supply may be completely blocked off. Both angina and heart attack can cause you to feel a full, heavy or tight pain in your chest. This pain may spread out to your arms, your neck as well as your back and even to your jaw. You may also feel as if you can't catch your breath (breathlessness).

Anytime that you have symptoms that last longer than 15 minutes, symptoms that are happening when you're resting or lying down, or if your symptoms also include vomiting, sweating or extremely painful breathing, call your ambulance, you're more likely having a heart attack. Never guess, if you're unsure, call for help immediately. It's always best to err on the side of caution. You don't want to play with your health. 

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