Painful breathing


Breathing pain is a common symptom. It is pain that can be felt in the neck or chest area and can sometimes lead to discomfort in the back.

A wide variety of causes can be hidden behind painful breathing. In addition to lung diseases, infections of the upper respiratory tract are much more common causes of painful breathing. But lung diseases are also typical for this symptom. In addition, complaints of muscles, bones and nerves can also cause pain when breathing. Depending on the cause and severity of the pain, different therapeutic approaches can be considered.

Causes of painful breathing

There are many causes of pain when breathing.
The most common causes are diseases of the airways and lungs. These include above all infections and inflammations of the mucous membranes in the throat, windpipe and bronchi. Pneumonia can also make breathing painful. Pain when breathing is not uncommon, especially when the lung is involved.

Read more on this topic at: Pneumonia pain

If the pain occurs acutely and suddenly and is accompanied by shortness of breath, a pulmonary embolism must also be considered. This is a rare but serious clinical picture in which a blood clot blocks an artery in the lungs.
Read on under: How do you recognize a pulmonary embolism?

A (partially) collapsed lung manifests itself similarly suddenly, but usually less drastically.

Other structures in the chest can also cause pain when breathing. The musculoskeletal system is particularly important here. A pinched rib nerve, overexerted muscles or a bruise on the chest can lead to pain when breathing. All of this is one of the common causes.

In some cases, pain in breathing hides chest pain emanating from other organs. A heart attack is often accompanied by chest pain, and the stomach or gall bladder can also be felt in this way. However, here the pain is not always related to breathing.

Pain in the back when breathing

Often, pain is felt in the back when breathing. This is the typical pain point where inflammatory processes in the lungs and pulmonary membrane radiate.

The most common cause is a flu-like infection, which is caused by viruses and is often accompanied by pain in the back when breathing. Similarly, bacterial pneumonia in the lower lungs in the back often makes breathing painful. These are particularly noticeable when breathing in. Especially when the lung membrane is inflamed, the affected person can report easily localizable pain when breathing in the back.

Equally common causes of back pain are bruises and simply sore muscles. The respiratory muscles sit between the ribs. If this has been overloaded, it hurts with every breath. After a jerky movement, a pinched nerve can make breathing painful.
You might also be interested in: Treatment of a bruised rib

In the case of breath-dependent pain, it is important to ask whether a previous trauma has occurred. After being hit on the back, a bruise or bruise can cause severe pain in the back when breathing. Rare causes of pain when breathing that radiate into the back are rheumatic diseases of the spine or of the roots of the ribs.

You can find a lot more information on this topic at: Pain in the back when breathing.

Sore ribs when breathing

If the pain when breathing is more likely to be located on or under the ribs, a muscular cause or a cause arising from the nerves and bones should be considered first. In addition to the respiratory muscles, the abdominal muscles also apply under the lowest rib. If the muscles in the abdominal muscles are sore or strained, pain in breathing may occur on / under the ribs.

They are also a typical symptom of a bruised rib. After a trauma to the chest, the ribs can be severely bruised. This causes pain in breathing in and under the ribs. If the symptoms are severe, a break in the ribs should be ruled out in the hospital. This is done with an X-ray. In most cases, a broken rib is treated conservatively with rest and pain medication.

Classically, inflammation of the lung membrane, which lies directly against the inner chest wall, also manifests itself as pain in the ribs when breathing. Deep inhalation in particular causes sharp pain. Causes of lung inflammation are diverse and include, among others pneumonia, rheumatic causes, trauma and rarely tumors.

A rare disease that causes pain in the ribs when breathing is Tietze syndrome. The exact cause is not known. There is breath-dependent pain at the base of the ribs on the sternum.

Further information on this topic can be found at: Pain under the ribs when breathing

left side pain when breathing

Pain when breathing may only occur on one side on the left. The causes for this can in principle be all of the processes and diseases described above. These include pneumonia with involvement of the pulmonary membrane, a collapsed left lung, a blow to or fall on the left chest, or a pulmonary embolism. These things can theoretically occur anywhere on the chest, including the left.

Special causes of pain when breathing on the left come from the organs on the left. If you inhale deeply, damaged abdominal organs can be irritated. An inflammation of the stomach or a stomach ulcer can cause pain in the left breathing.
Do you suffer from a stomach ulcer? You can find out at: Symptoms of a stomach ulcer

The spleen is also on the left in the abdomen. This organ rarely causes pain. An enlarged spleen may cause pain on the left when breathing.

The most important organ on the left side of the chest is the heart. An insufficient supply of oxygen through narrow coronary vessels leads to severe pain in the front left of the chest. In the worst case, there is a heart attack, which can be accompanied by severe pain, sweating and unconsciousness.
However, pain emanating from the heart is not necessarily related to breathing. It is more likely that a rib nerve has been irritated by an unusual or incorrect movement or the muscles have been overloaded.

Also read the article: Left-sided pain on inhalation.

right side pain when breathing

As on the left, if there is pain when breathing on the right side of the chest, a cause in the lungs, ribs or muscles and nerves must be assumed. However, there are also some specific reasons for painful breathing right alongside.

On the right under the costal arch, closely related to the lungs and diaphragm, are the liver and gallbladder. Diseases of these organs can be accompanied by pain when breathing, as the movements of the diaphragm exert pressure or tension on these structures. An inflamed gallbladder can be responsible for the symptoms. A tense liver, e.g. in the context of infectious diseases, breathing can lead to pain on the right side of the costal arch.

Gallstones, which lead to cramp-like, swelling and decongesting pain on the right, can also in rare cases be the cause of painful breathing. Most of the time, if there is nausea or abdominal pain, there is a cause in the abdomen. Therefore, in the case of pain when breathing with the accompanying symptoms mentioned, one should assume a cause in the abdominal cavity.

Read more on the subject at: Pain on inhalation right

pain on both sides when breathing

If the pain occurs on both sides when breathing, a disease of the lungs and their accompanying structures is very likely. Nerves, trauma or other organs are usually associated with one-sided pain.

Bilateral pain when breathing can be caused by severe pneumonia in both lungs with involvement of the pulmonary membrane. The inflamed lung membrane rubs against the lungs and chest when breathing, causing pain. Rheumatic diseases also tend to occur on both sides.

Overworked muscles after extensive exercise would also tend to cause pain on both sides when breathing. A precise assessment of persistent symptoms is important in order to identify serious causes.

What role does the heart play in painful breathing?

The heart lies slightly to the left in the rib cage under the chest. Pain caused by the heart therefore occurs to the left behind the breastbone and typically extends into the left arm and sometimes into the jaw. They can be interpreted as pain when breathing.

Pain that occurs more intensely when breathing and is less pronounced when at rest, can also indicate an inflammation of the pericardium.

The cause can be a temporary insufficient supply of blood to the heart. When exerted, this leads to pain when breathing through the heart (angina pectoris). If the pain occurs acutely and with nausea and shortness of breath, a heart attack must be considered. An emergency doctor must be alerted immediately.

Painful breathing during pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman's body has to adapt to many things. It does not always succeed completely. Breathing can also be painful during pregnancy. All causes that cause breathing pain in other people are of course also conceivable during pregnancy.

Special reasons for the complaints, however, are due to the fact that the child takes up a lot of space in the mother's womb as the pregnancy progresses. Breathing pain during pregnancy is usually only observed from the last third (3rd trimester) onwards. The unborn child increases the pressure in the abdomen against which the diaphragm has to work. This alone can cause pain.
You might also be interested in: Aching costal arch during pregnancy

In addition, the child may press against the lungs or accompanying structures from below. The pain when breathing is position-dependent during pregnancy. They are worst when lying on your back and improve while standing or with your torso bent forward. The complaints are usually harmless. However, if the pain increases or if symptoms such as shortness of breath, resting pain or nausea occur, medical advice should be obtained for safety.

Shortness of breath and pain when breathing

Pain when breathing with difficulty breathing suggests a more serious cause. They can be dangerous diseases that need to be treated quickly.

Pain with shortness of breath can occur with a collapsed lung, pulmonary embolism, and heart attack. A collapsed lung is safely treated by placing a suction drain in the chest. In the case of pulmonary embolism and heart attack, quick action is required. Pain when breathing with shortness of breath can also occur with pneumonia.

The fact that the pain occurs with shortness of breath suggests that it was more difficult. You shouldn't wait, go straight to a doctor or hospital.


Treatment for breathing pain, of course, depends on the cause. It is important to recognize at the beginning whether a harmless or serious illness is causing the pain.

Ailments caused by nerves or muscles are treated conservatively. Here it is often enough to relieve tension through moderate exercise and targeted exercises. Massages and the application of heat can complement the treatment.

In the case of pneumonia, antibiotic therapy must be initiated. It should only be done at home in mild cases.

If the pain is from the gallbladder, surgery may be necessary. This involves removing the gallbladder.

A gastric ulcer is treated with long-term drug therapy that inhibits acid production in the stomach.

Pulmonary embolism and a heart attack are absolute emergencies. You need to be treated in the hospital as soon as possible. The blocked vessels can be reopened here. In addition, there are usually intensive medical measures that promote healing and prevent recurrence.

If a rheumatic disease is the cause of the pain when breathing, complex drug treatment is used in addition to painkillers. This should also be set by the specialist.

Chest pain when breathing

Breathing pain can be felt in the chest, among other things. Various things can also be the cause here. On the one hand, all things should be mentioned that can cause pain in breathing elsewhere.

Inflammation of the lungs or surrounding structures can also be felt in the chest. A collapsed lungs, heart problem, or trauma should also be considered. In the chest in particular, pains can occur as a result of cardiac arrhythmias. The most common cause of chest pain when breathing is, however, nerve or muscular tension.

Another cause of breathing pain that is more likely to affect the chest is shingles. Here there is pain over an entire horizontal area of ​​skin, which is accompanied by visible blisters on the skin.

In women, chest pain when breathing can have completely different causes. There may be monthly tension and pain in the chest as part of the female cycle. These can also be breath-dependent.

Pain in the throat when breathing

There are important sections of the airways in the throat. The throat merges into the larynx and trachea. All of these structures can cause pain when breathing.

In most cases, an inflammatory process is responsible for painful breathing in the throat. First and foremost is the classic strep throat (Pharyngitis) which is associated with reddened throat and pain when swallowing. Both bacteria (e.g. for scarlet fever) and viruses (e.g. for the common cold) can be responsible.

Inflammation of the larynx (laryngitis) can cause pain in the throat when breathing. Often both diseases go into each other. Antibiotics are used for bacteria. If viruses are responsible for the symptoms, symptomatic pain relievers, warm tea and bed rest must be treated.

Read on under: What to do if you have a sore throat

In addition to bacterial or viral pathogens, environmental stimuli can also lead to inflammation of the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract. Excessive nicotine consumption or harmful emissions can cause pain in the throat when breathing. Usually painful breathing in the throat can be treated well depending on the cause. The symptoms should go away after a few days. If this is not the case, a doctor should be consulted for further clarification.

Sore windpipe when breathing

Below the larynx there may also be pain when breathing in the windpipe. Mostly responsible is a viral infection of the windpipe (Tracheitis)so that there is pain with every breath. It is not uncommon for tracheitis to occur with inflammation of the bronchi, i.e. the airways within the lungs. Overall, it is a harmless disease.

Smoking can also cause pain in the windpipe when breathing. No special treatment is usually required. Mild pain relievers and quitting smoking aid healing, which should occur within a week.

Pain when coughing

Pain can occur not only when breathing but also when coughing. Pain when coughing is caused by irritation of the mucous membranes of the windpipe, larynx and throat. They are mainly felt in the back of the throat and throat. Inflammation of the lung membrane can also cause pain when coughing in the area of ​​the flanks.

If the cough has been around for a long time and bloody sputum occurs, a lung tumor must be considered. While this is a rather rare cause of a painful cough, it must be ruled out by a doctor if necessary.

Also read our topic: Lung pain when coughing

Pain in the abdomen when breathing

In some cases, the pain is felt in the abdomen when breathing. This is because the diaphragm puts pressure on the organs in the abdomen when you inhale. If one of these organs is damaged, pain can be felt in the abdomen when breathing. The most likely cause is an inflamed gallbladder. Here, pain would be felt when breathing on the right side of the abdomen.

If the stomach is responsible, the pain is in the middle or on the left. However, pain when breathing in the abdomen can also simply result from the fact that loops of intestine filled with air or food are compressed and thus irritated.

Chest pain when breathing

Pain when breathing is usually felt in the chest. The lungs, heart, lung membrane or bones can be responsible for the symptoms. Nerves and muscles run along the ribs, which can also cause pain in the chest when breathing. Typical is a pain in the chest after a force that causes a bruise. Heart attack and pulmonary embolism are dangerous causes of chest pain when breathing. If the symptoms are mild, one can wait. A doctor must be consulted in the event of severe complaints and additional symptoms.

Sternum pain when breathing

Breathing pain can also occur in the sternum. Typical of this is the rare Tietze syndrome. Here the attachment of the ribs to the sternum hurts for a still unknown cause.

A rheumatic disease can also relatively rarely be the cause of painful breathing in the sternum. More likely to experience painful breathing in the sternum is a sore intercostal muscles or a head-on blow to the chest.

Another cause of painful breathing in the sternum can also be heartburn. Stomach acid rising up the esophagus causes a burning pain behind the sternum. This can manifest itself as pain when breathing.

Pain in breathing associated with a cold

A cold or bronchitis is a viral infection of the mucous membranes. The irritation of the mucous membranes and the accompanying cough lead to pain.

Pain when breathing with a cold can, however, also indicate that bacterial inflammation has occurred in addition to the cold or bronchitis. This pain comes from involvement of the pulmonary membrane and the lungs. Then the use of antibiotics is indicated.

However, mild pain when breathing in the upper airways with bronchitis and the common cold is normal.

How long does breathing pain last?

In the vast majority of cases, the prognosis for simple breathing pain is very good. The main cause here comes from nerves or muscles that are easy to treat. The duration of the pain is a few days at most. The prognosis is also good for diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. The duration of the complaints lasts until the definitive treatment.

Pain while breathing has a significantly poorer prognosis if the cause originates in the heart or if there is a pulmonary embolism behind it. Here the prognosis can only be improved through quick and targeted action. After the therapy, the pain when breathing has mostly disappeared.

Diagnosis of painful breathing

Because of the wide variety of possible causes, the diagnosis of breathing pain involves many factors.

An extensive survey clarifies the extent of the complaints, how acute they occurred and whether there is a fever or violence. A look into the throat gives evidence of inflamed mucous membranes.

In order to examine the lungs further, it must be listened to and possibly x-rayed. To rule out cardiac involvement, certain laboratory values ​​and an electrocardiogram (EKG) are required. An orthopedic exam can diagnose nerve entrapment.
If there is any further uncertainty, examinations such as computed tomography (CT) can be useful.

Accompanying symptoms of painful breathing

If breathing is painful, there may be other accompanying symptoms. They can point the way in the search for the cause.

An important symptom of painful breathing is a possible shortness of breath or breathlessness. It gives indications that the cause of the discomfort lies in the lungs or in the heart.

If there is inflammation in the chest, chills and fever may be accompanying symptoms.

In addition, other accompanying symptoms are nausea and vomiting. If such complaints occur parallel to painful breathing, the diagnosis should focus on the gastrointestinal tract. It is important to know that nausea and vomiting can also be indications of a heart attack. If the cause of the pain is very serious, accompanying symptoms such as dizziness or even loss of consciousness can appear.

A common cause of painful breathing is a pinched nerve or an irritated muscle. In addition to the pain, there may be tingling or numbness in the chest. In addition, pressure on the affected area or certain movements increase the pain.