Possible Causes for Lung Pain
Intermittent chest pain plagues almost every person, and while heart issues usually jump to mind it is more often lung pain that many are experiencing. Because lungs are front and center in the chest, any pain or discomfort felt in these organs could be misinterpreted as heart problems, especially in the elderly. But even children and teens from time to time feel that clutching or darting pain in the chest area. Any recurring chest pains should be immediately checked by your doctor, but many of the causes have nothing to do with the heart at all, and are called non-cardiac chest pain. Your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis for you after an examination and a few tests to determine what the exact cause for your symptoms may be.
There are many conditions for which one symptom may be pain in the chest area. While it is true some of these conditions are related to the heart, many of them are actually attributable to one of many conditions relating to the lungs.
Understanding the lungs
Each human body is designed for two lungs. Protected by the rib cage or chest wall to the front and back of the body, the two lungs are nestled within two cavities that border the heart on each side. The right lung is naturally made slightly larger than the left lung, with the extra space on the left providing extra room for the heart. The lungs are the respiratory organs which move the air we breathe in to the bloodstream. During this complicated process, the carbon dioxide and the oxygen are separated; with the oxygen being fed into our body and the carbon dioxide being dispelled. They are overbuilt by design; immense reserve capabilities present, although only a small capacity is utilized when at rest. The lungs are covered with pleural membranes, with fluid in between to allow flexible movement during breathing.
Pain caused by Collapsed Lung
Normally, the chest cavity is devoid of air. Occasionally, however, air gains entry and collects in this cavity through one of two methods: spontaneous pneumothorax or complicated pneumothorax, and pressure from this air pushing on the lung can cause the lung to collapse. Spontaneous collapsed lung can result from the bursting of a cyst or sac on the lung’s surface, while complicated pneumothorax happens after a chest injury or a lung disease. The sudden onset of sharp lung pain along with a feeling of tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, cough and fatigue are symptoms of this disorder. The condition may clear up on its own within one to two weeks. However, in some cases including those with an underlying lung disease may require that the air be suctioned from the chest cavity to relieve the condition. In a very few cases, surgery may be required to eliminate the source of air leaking into the cavity.
Pain caused by Pneumonia
Pneumonia is a common ailment; especially when caused by bacteria. Generally, the bacteria attacks individuals who are in the process of recovering from a cold and the immune system is still in a weakened state. The bacterium causing pneumonia is usually inhaled, and it journeys to the moist atmosphere of the lungs and settles in; causing infection, congestion and lung pain. When this occurs, breathing can become quite painful and stressed, and a cough will likely develop. Treatment will generally require antibiotics, rest and moist air created by a humidifier or steam to encourage loosening of phlegm.
Pain caused by Overexertion
Chest pain centering on the area of the lungs that occurs suddenly while performing some type of activity such as walking up a hill, jogging or running is a condition called “stable angina”. Stress can also produce symptoms of this condition, which include sharp, stabbing pains that making taking a deep breath nearly impossible. An attack of angina can be brought on eating too large of a meal, shoveling snow in cold weather, exercise or even just emotional situations. It occurs when the heart is expected to work harder than normal, which requires additional oxygen. If the coronary arteries are narrowed, the much needed extra oxygen is slow to arrive at the heart, causing pain.
Pain caused by Lung Cancer
The unfortunate truth is that often when people experience persistent chest pain, they are afraid to investigate its cause. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths, and in many cases, the symptoms are not taken seriously enough by the individual to allow a doctor’s diagnosis until the cancer is in advanced stages. A continual cough and pain in the lungs is often misunderstood by the sufferer, especially if that person is a smoker. Lung cancer pain is usually the cause of a tumor that is pressing on bones, nerves or other organs. It can also be, for those already diagnosed with the disease, the treatment of the disease itself causing pain. Pain medication can be administered to help with the pain or an alternative treatment method if the current treatment is painful.
Pain caused by COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a disease of the lung in which breathing is made extremely difficult. Smoking is the major cause of this disease; causing inflammation of the lung as well as the destruction of air sacs within the lung. Secondhand smoke when severe and exposure to certain fumes or gases are also attributable. Symptoms include coughing and lung pain as the individual attempts to breathe or cough.
Pain caused by Heart Disease
Chest pain, when caused by heart disease, can be a crushing pain. Accompanying the pain may be any combination of the following: sweats, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and pain in the arm, back, neck, jaw and shoulders. No time can be wasted when these symptoms appear; immediate medical attention is required. Treatment will depend upon the cause of the heart disease and its severity.
Pain caused by Pleurisy
Two layers of membranes, separated from each other by a layer of fluid, surround each of the lungs. The condition called pleurisy occurs when the membranes become inflamed, by certain vascular diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancers, heart disease, a blood clot in the vessel leading to the lung or chest trauma from surgery or an accident. The pain experienced with pleurisy is sharp and stabbing. Other symptoms may be difficulty in breathing, tenderness in the chest area and coughing. Pleurisy may go away by itself with no treatment, or it may become necessary to extract the fluid from around the lungs in a medical procedure.
Misconceptions about lung pain
Too often, people feeling pain around the chest area automatically believe it to be an issue of the heart. While it could very well be associated with the heart, there are many other disorders that share the symptom of pain in the chest. It is not always a dire diagnosis, but it is necessary to advise your doctor immediately of any and all symptoms you are experiencing.
Everyone experiences some type of chest discomfort or pain from time to time. It is important to be continually vigilant to the signals that your body gives you and to know your body well so that should lung pain, chest pain or any other symptom arise, you will be aware of its possible significance and be alerted to seek medical attention. Many times, the discomfort may simply be the body’s way of letting you know that you need to take better care of yourself, or to take it a little easier when performing an activity.
Most importantly, it is vital to give your doctor clear information regarding your symptoms. Let him know of any previous illness you may have had or been exposed to recently, what the circumstances were when you first felt the pain and what you may have been doing. Describe the pain as clearly as possible to allow the doctor to rule out any possible causes. With this information, your doctor will be able to arrive at an accurate diagnosis of your condition and begin treatment to get you back on the road to health.