Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why do I have sharp pain while breathing?"
Lately when I inhale I get a sharp pain. I'm not a smoker, but I can't get the pain to go away. What could it be?
A sharp pain while taking a deep breath is usually referred to as pleuritic in nature, as it often represents irritation or inflammation of the pleura (or lining around the lungs). You are right that sometimes people who smoke can develop these kinds of symptoms, but it is important to remember that there are many other things that can cause these symptoms, some of them very mild and some quite serious. For this reason, it is definitely a good idea for you to see your primary care physician to go over your recent history and give your doctor a chance to examine you to make sure there are no signs of serious illness. The most common cause of pleuritis is probably a viral infection of the pleura. This can be particularly common in the winter months. However, pleuritic pain following an episode of pneumonia can indicate that a new pleural effusion or abscess has developed. In addition, depending upon your age, gender, and prior health history, pleuritic chest pain can sometimes be concerning for the development of a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). By going over your history and asking a few more questions, your physician can help decide whether your symptoms are something that can be managed with pain medication as needed at home or whether you need additional imaging studies.
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