A bubbling feeling in the chest is a sensation that a person might describe as cracking or gurgling or as if a bubble is about to burst. Causes include asthma, indigestion, atrial fibrillation, pleurisy, and more.

This bubbling feeling is linked to various conditions ranging from mild to severe. The sensation may appear alone or occur alongside other signs and symptoms. People with a bubbling feeling in the chest should always see their doctor for a diagnosis.

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Here, we explore 12 common causes of a bubbling feeling in the chest:

1. Asthma

People with asthma may experience a bubbling sensation in the chest. Asthma is a lung condition that involves swelling and narrowing of the airways. It affects approximately 27 million Americans.

Other symptoms include:

Asthma may be triggered by:

Most people can manage their asthma with lifestyle changes and medication.

2. Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, often one that is faster than normal. It happens when the upper chambers of the heart are out of sync with the lower chambers.

Other symptoms can include:

Atrial fibrillation requires medical treatment. While it is not usually life-threatening, it can lead to complications, such as blood clots in the heart.

3. Bronchitis

Bronchitis causes inflammation of the tubes that connect the lungs to the mouth and nose, called the bronchial tubes. It may be short-term, acute, or last three months or more, which is considered chronic.

Other symptoms of bronchitis include:

Treatment depends on the type of bronchitis a person has. Acute bronchitis is usually treated like a cold, and symptoms will typically go away in 10 to 14 days. Treatment for chronic bronchitis may include inhalers and oxygen therapy.

4. Collapsed lung

A collapsed lung or pneumothorax happens when air leaks from the lung into the area between the lung and the chest wall.

As well as the bubbling feeling, a collapsed lung can cause:

  • a bluish tone to the skin
  • fatigue
  • flared nostrils
  • low blood pressure
  • rapid heartbeat

A collapsed lung can occur suddenly for no reason or be caused by:

  • injury
  • a medical procedure
  • lung damage

A collapsed lung should be considered a medical emergency even when symptoms are mild. Symptoms typically resolve quickly, and there are usually no future complications with prompt treatment.

5. Gallbladder inflammation

Inflammation of the gallbladder or cholecystitis can be caused by blocked bile ducts, tumors, or infection.

Symptoms often flare up after eating, particularly if the meal is large or high in fat. Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • pain in the upper right or center abdomen that may spread to the right shoulder or back
  • tenderness above the abdomen when touched
  • vomiting

Some people may also notice a bubbling feeling in the chest.

Treatment typically involves gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy), antibiotics, and painkillers. Untreated gallbladder inflammation can lead to serious complications, some of which can be life-threatening.

6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD involves the rise of stomach acid into the esophagus. GERD can cause:

  • a bubbling feeling in the chest
  • chest pain
  • a cough
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling like there is a lump in the throat
  • heartburn, which is a burning sensation in the chest just behind the breastbone
  • a sore throat
  • sour taste in the mouth

GERD can result from:

  • bacterial overgrowth by helicobacter pylori
  • frequent use of over-the-counter painkillers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • excessive intake of alcohol

The usual treatments for GERD and heartburn are medications and lifestyle changes.

7. Indigestion

Indigestion is pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen that can cause a bubbling sensation in the chest and gurgling in the abdomen after eating. Indigestion is also known as dyspepsia.

People may also experience:

Dyspepsia can be caused by:

  • eating too quickly or too much
  • excessive intake of alcohol or caffeine
  • fatty or spicy food
  • smoking
  • some painkillers and antibiotics

Treatment involves lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as medications.

8. Pleurisy

Pleurisy or pleuritis involves inflammation of the thin membrane that lines the inside of the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs (pleura). It is typically due to an underlying medical condition.

Symptoms include:

  • sharp chest pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, or sneezing
  • shortness of breath
  • a cough and fever, in some cases

Treatment involves addressing the underlying condition and manavging pain.

9. Pleural effusion

Pleural effusion occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the space between the lung lining and the chest wall. It is often a symptom of another condition, such as:

Symptoms include bubbling in the chest, cough, and shortness of breath.

10. Lung tumor

A lung tumor may be linked to a bubbling feeling in the chest in rare cases. Lung tumors may be harmless or cancerous.

Many people with lung tumors do not develop symptoms until the cancer is at an advanced stage.

When symptoms are present, they may include:

11. Pneumomediastinum

A condition called pneumomediastinum may lead to the symptom of a bubbling sensation in the chest, although this is an uncommon cause.

This condition is caused by trapped air in the middle of the chest under the breastbone and between the lungs that results from injury or air leakage.

There is not always an obvious explanation, but people with pneumomediastinum may experience:

  • a cough
  • hoarseness
  • neck pain
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble breathing
  • vomiting

12. Precordial catch syndrome

Precordial catch syndrome arises when nerves in the chest are pinched or squeezed. It typically presents in children, adolescents, and people in their early 20s. It is not usually harmful, although alarming.

Symptoms include sharp chest pain that comes on suddenly and a bubbling sensation. Symptoms typically disappear with age, but there is no treatment.

A gurgling or bubbling feeling in the chest may also be linked to other conditions, such as:

If anyone experiences a bubbling feeling in their chest, they must consult a doctor. Although the bubbling may be indigestion, it could be a sign of something serious, such as a tumor or collapsed lung.

Anyone who experiences the following symptoms should seek emergency medical treatment:

  • difficulty breathing, especially if it starts suddenly
  • high fever
  • inability to stand up or walk properly
  • irregular pulse
  • numbness in the arm or side
  • pain that spreads to the face or neck
  • severe abdominal pain
  • severe vomiting

There are many reasons a person may experience gurgling or bubbling in the chest. These include asthma, indigestion, atrial fibrillation, pleurisy, and more. Treatment for gurgling in the chest will depend on the cause.