Recognising and understanding lung pain

November 12, 2012

Recognising and understanding lung pain

Lung pain or a pain that seems to be located in or around the lungs can be a worrying experience and may be a sign of a number of conditions. Understanding lung pain and the accompanying symptoms may help to identify the cause.

Types of lung pain

Discussing lung pain can be fairly difficult as the absence of pain receptors in the lungs means that we can’t actually feel pain directly from the organ. What we can feel however is inflammation, irritation or pressure surrounding the lungs. When you visit your doctor complaining of chest pain, you may have noticed they asked you to describe the pain. Identifying the kind of pain as sharp, dull, localised, radiating, constant, intermittent etc, can help the doctor to diagnose the cause of your lung pain.

  • Inflammation can occur if there is an infection present or another underlying medical condition leading to the inflammation of the lining of the lungs or the surrounding area.

  • Irritation can cause lung pain and may occur as a result of a condition such as pleurisy which leads to irritation of the lining of the lungs

  • Pressure can be caused from within the lungs or from surrounding areas commonly by a benign or cancerous tumour in the lungs or cavity of the chest. Inflammation of a nerve can also cause pressure on the lungs.

  • Chest wall pain is another form of chest pain caused by a strained muscle possibly as a result of chronic coughing.

Conditions that may cause lung pain as a symptom

  • Pleurisy – when the lining of the lungs becomes inflamed

  • Infections – including pneumonia and bronchitis

  • Asthma

  • A pulmonary embolism – when a blood clot that has formed in the legs breaks away and travels into the lungs

  • Pneumothorax – when a lung collapses

  • Acid reflux

  • Hyperventilation

  • Benign or malignant tumour

  • Pleural effusion – a build up of fluid in between the tissues of the lining of the lungs

  • Heart disease – it is possible for pain caused by heart conditions to be misinterpreted as lung pain

  • Costochondritis – rib joint inflammation

Lung pain and lung cancer

As you can see from the list of examples above there are many factors that can cause lung pain aside from cancer. However, as with all cancers it is easiest and most successfully treated when caught early so it is important to consider lung cancer a possibility if you begin to experience lung pain or any other related symptoms. Lung cancer can develop in both smokers and non-smokers, elderly people and younger people so it is best to get it ruled out at the first opportunity. Other symptoms such as a persistent bad cough, coughing up blood and unexplained weight loss are all associated with lung cancer.

Diagnosing the cause of lung pain

Your doctor will ask a number of questions to do with describing the type of pain and the severity and will then go on to perform a number of test such as a physical examination, a chest x-ray, a CT scan and blood tests. Depending on the results a diagnosis should be able to be made and treatment started. Always see a doctor if you are experiencing lung pain and if it becomes severe, you experience shortness of breath or a crushing pain call for emergency assistance.


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