Lung pain is not an entirely correct term as these do not have pain receptors. However, you may be concerned if you feel pain in this body area.
Let’s talk about the pain sensation that seems to be coming from the lungs and some of the possible causes.
Since pain receptors in the chest ( chest cavity) often overlap, we’ll also talk about how your symptom could signify something else.
Your first concern if you feel pain in your lungs is probably what is causing the pain. Pain felt in the lungs has many general possible causes.
We will examine the specific conditions that can cause this pain, but it is essential first to understand the mechanisms that could lead to pain in this region to gain a better understanding.
Some of these mechanisms include:
- Inflammation: Any condition that causes inflammation in the lungs, the lining of the lungs, or the surrounding areas can lead to what feels like lung pain.
- Irritation – For example, irritation of the lining of the lungs (the pleura), as occurs with pleurisy, can cause pain that feels like it is in the lungs.
- Pressure – Pressure in the chest cavity from a benign or cancerous tumor in the lungs or chest cavity, or pressure from a tumor or inflammation around a nerve, can cause pain.
- Chest Wall Pain: Pain that originates from the chest wall, including the skin, muscles, ligaments, and other tissues, is quite joint.
Tired muscles can cause this type of pain due to coughing, injury, or pain related to a shingles infection (note that pain is usually present before a shingles rash is seen).
Many possible conditions can cause lung pain, but some of the most common include:
Pleurisy: Pleurisy refers to an inflammation of the tissues that line the lungs (the pleura). This pain usually increases with deep breathing, can be positional, and feel sharper than dull.
Infections – Infections ranging from pneumonia to bronchitis to a lung abscess can cause this type of pain.
Asthma: Many people recognize asthma when it occurs with wheezing, but asthma can also have other symptoms.
Some people only experience a cough (cough variant asthma) and may experience chest pain due to repeated coughing. Pain that feels like lung pain can also be present when asthma is severe.
Pulmonary embolism: A pulmonary embolus occurs when a blood clot in the legs or pelvis (deep vein thrombosis) breaks off and travels to the lungs.
Pain with a pulmonary embolism is sometimes difficult to distinguish from pain due to other causes. The pain can be mild to severe, sharp, or dull ache and may or may not include other symptoms.
The most common symptom that occurs other than pain is shortness of breath.
Pneumothorax: A pneumothorax, also known as a collapsed lung, can cause pain. A pneumothorax is essentially a collapsed lung and can occur for several reasons.
It can be a side effect of many different respiratory conditions and is not uncommon in people with emphysema when a blister ruptures. It may be accompanied by ” crepitus ” in the chest, a sensation that appears to have a bubble bandage under the skin on the upper chest.
Pleural effusion: An accumulation of fluid between the tissues that line the lungs, called pleural effusion, is a common cause of pain in this region.
Benign and malignant tumors: Cancers that include lung cancer and mesothelioma (cancer that affects the lining of the lungs) can cause pain, as can benign lung tumors, such as a hamartoma, the most common benign lung tumor.
Costochondritis: Costochondritis is a condition that involves inflammation in the region where the ribs meet the breastbone.
Heart disease: Sometimes, the pain from a heart attack and other heart conditions can feel like lung pain.
Acid Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a poorly recognized cause of pain that is felt in the region of the lungs.
Esophageal spasm: Spasms in the esophagus can cause chest pain, which can feel like it occurs in the lungs.
Rheumatoid conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and hyperventilation, can lead to pain, which can be very scary.
What Your Doctor May Ask
Your doctor will ask you many questions to determine the source of your pain. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare and respond more accurately.
When your doctor asks about your lung pain symptom, they will ask how you feel:
- Is it sharp, or is it smooth?
- Is it localized in a particular area, or does it diffuse throughout the chest?
- Is it constant, or does it come and go? What makes it better, and what makes it worse?
Your doctor may also ask:
- How long have you had lung pain?
- Did your symptoms start suddenly, or did they appear gradually over some time?
- Is the pain sharp or is it vague and sore? (Pain related to inflammation of the lung lining is often intense, while pain associated with a tumor is usually deep and painful.)
- Is the pain localized, or do you feel it diffusely across your chest?
- Does the pain get worse with a deep breath?
- Have you had any recent infections, or have you had a fever?
- Have you been coughing?
- Do you have any pain in your legs?
- What other medical conditions do you have, such as heart or lung disease or “autoimmune” conditions like rheumatoid arthritis?
- Do you have a family history of heart or lung problems?
- Have you recently traveled by plane or car?
Lung pain and lung cancer
As noted above, many conditions can cause pain and discomfort in the lung region; only one of them is cancer.
However, because lung cancer is most treatable in the early stages of the disease, it is essential to consider lung cancer as a possibility, whether you have ever smoked or not.
Symptoms that make lung pain more likely to be cancer include:
- History of smoking.
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Unexplained weight loss
Get acquainted with the early symptoms of lung cancer. It is also important to note that, as with heart disease, lung cancer symptoms in women often differ from those in men.
In addition, it was established that most women who develop lung cancer in 2017 are not smokers, and at least 1 in 5 women with the disease have not smoked a single cigarette.
When you visit your doctor, they will take a careful history and perform a physical exam. Depending on the results, other tests may include:
- A chest X-ray to check for signs of infection.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate a heart attack.
- A CT scan of your chest to look for tumors, a pleural effusion, evidence of infection, and more.
- Blood tests to rule out a heart attack and look for evidence of inflammation or conditions such as lupus.
- An echocardiogram to evaluate your heart valves, look for fluid around your heart, or check for heart damage.