Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Can breathing cause sharp chest pains?"
I sometimes get sharp pains in my chest when I take very deep breaths. I'm an otherwise health 40 yr old man, and it seems like this has gotten worse in the last month. What are the different illnesses that might cause this, and how should I treat it?
Sharp pains when you take a deep breath are usually caused by a condition called pleurisy (explained below), or sometimes a rib injury. It can be a very distressing symptom. However, only a qualified health care professional taking a detailed history and physical exam can tell for sure what is causing the pains you are having and if you need a more extensive work up. Pleuritic chest pain occurs when there is inflammation of the pleura (the connective tissue lining of the lung and inside chest wall). The pain is usually described as sharp, and increases with deep breathing. The cause can be idiopathic (unknown), secondary to an infection, autoimmune disease, or possibly a pulmonary embolism. Isolated pleurisy that is idiopathic and not due to a life threatening illness (such as a pulmonary embolism) can be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Any associated symptom such as fever, heart palpitations, or shortness of breath should prompt you to present to the emergency room right away. If the chest pain is isolated (no other symptom) then you may be able to just call your primary care physician and schedule an appointment very soon. Because some of the causes can be life threatening, you shouldn't wait to get medical attention if you feel sick or have any of these alarming symptoms.
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