Chest pain when breathing deeply may indicate several conditions, including COVID-19, pneumonia, and pleurisy. The potential causes vary in severity, and all require different treatments.

There are many possible causes of chest pain when breathing deeply. Causes of chest pain are not always serious.

However, chest pain is occasionally a symptom of conditions that require urgent medical attention, such as a heart attack. A person should call 911 if they experience:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • jaw, neck, or back pain
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness or vomiting
  • arm or shoulder pain or discomfort

Treatment for chest pain when breathing deeply differs depending on the cause of the chest pain. Doctors usually consider all of a person’s symptoms to make a diagnosis.

This article explains some potential causes of chest pain when breathing deeply, including other symptoms a person might experience and typical treatments.

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Pleurisy is inflammation that affects the pleura. The pleura is a layer of tissue that separates the lungs from the rib cage. Pleurisy can arise for many reasons, such as infection or cancer.


The characteristic symptom of pleurisy is pain in the shoulder or chest. This may worsen with:

  • breathing
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • torso movement

Pleuritic chest pain may be dull, sharp, burning, or aching.


There is no single treatment for pleurisy. Doctors treat its underlying cause. Possible treatment options include:

  • surgery
  • needle aspiration
  • medication

COVID-19 is an infectious condition. It develops from infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and causes respiratory problems. There is evidence that COVID-19 can cause chest pain.

Research from 2022 also suggests that chest pain can develop in people with long COVID.

In both cases, chest pain may indicate that COVID-19 has led to cardiac problems.


There are several symptoms of COVID-19, including:

These symptoms may also persist in long COVID. Additional long COVID symptoms include tiredness, weakness, and lethargy.


A variety of medications can help treat COVID-19. These include:

  • antiviral drugs
  • anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • immunomodulators

For mild cases of COVID-19, over-the-counter pain or cold medications can help alleviate symptoms. For severe cases, oxygen therapy and ventilator support may be necessary.

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardial sac. This sac is a protective lining that surrounds the heart.

According to the American Heart Association, a sharp, stabbing chest pain is a common symptom of acute pericarditis.

However, chest pain may be absent in people with chronic pericarditis.


The chest pain can be fairly central or affect the left side of the chest. Some people may also experience shoulder pain.

A person can experience sharp, stabbing chest pain that typically develops quickly, or it can feel like a dull, aching pressure.

Taking deep breaths and lying down can worsen pericarditis chest pain. It sometimes improves if someone is sitting upright and leaning forward.

Some people with acute pericarditis may also experience:

  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • weakness
  • heart palpitations
  • coughing

If a person experiences heart palpitations with chest pain, they should make an appointment with a doctor, as this can indicate a problem with the heart.


According to the American Heart Association, there are several treatment options for pericarditis, including:

  • rest
  • anti-inflammatory medications
  • colchicine, a medication that treats inflammation and pain
  • steroids

If pericarditis stems from a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be necessary.

Chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) is a condition involving limited airflow within the lungs, causing breathing difficulties.

According to a 2018 study, 22–54% of people with COPD experience chest pain. This may worsen when breathing deeply.


COPD can cause several symptoms. These include:

  • muscle wasting
  • respiratory distress
  • prolonged expiration
  • breathing with pursed-lips
  • wheezing


COPD treatment aims to improve quality of life, manage symptoms, and reduce the risk of death. Treatments include:

Doctors may also recommend preventive steps, such as regular vaccinations against conditions affecting the lungs.

A pulmonary embolism is when a blood clot blocks an artery within the lungs. It can deprive the lungs of oxygen, causing breathing difficulties and other complications.

Pulmonary embolisms can cause chest pain that worsens with breathing.


Other than chest pain, pulmonary embolisms have other common symptoms. These include:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • coughing blood
  • feeling faint
  • losing consciousness

Less commonly, pulmonary embolisms can cause cardiac symptoms, such as an irregular heart rate.


Treatment for a pulmonary embolism aims to manage complications and cure the condition. The principal means of treating pulmonary embolism are as follows:

Treatment also aims to help prevent future pulmonary emboli.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs. It arises from infections within the lungs, which may be viral, bacterial, or fungal.

Pneumonia can cause chest pain, which may worsen with breathing.


There are many possible symptoms of pneumonia. These include:

  • feeling unwell
  • chills
  • appetite loss
  • muscle aches or pain
  • abdominal pain
  • cough

In some cases, pneumonia can lead to coughing blood.


Doctors have several ways of treating pneumonia. Treatments aim to cure or manage the underlying cause using antibiotic medication. Those medications can include:

  • fluoroquinolones
  • beta-lactam antibiotics
  • macrolides
  • doxycycline

Lung cancer is when cells within the lungs begin to grow uncontrollably. Between 20 and 40% of people with lung cancer experience chest pain. It may worsen with deep breathing.


As lung cancer develops, it can create various forms of organ dysfunction. This can lead to several symptoms, including:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing blood
  • dilated neck veins
  • swelling in the neck, face, or arms

If lung cancer spreads, it can cause symptoms in other body parts. For instance, lung cancer can spread to the bones, causing bone pain.


Doctors may treat lung cancer using the following methods:

Some people may receive a combination of treatments.

Anyone who has chronic or severe chest pain when breathing should contact a doctor, especially if they have any of the other symptoms listed above.

Such pain could indicate a serious condition, such as lung cancer or pulmonary embolism.

Several conditions can cause chest pain when breathing deeply.

These include inflammatory conditions, such as pleurisy, pericarditis, and pneumonia. COVID-19 can do the same, as well as COPD and pulmonary embolism. Lung cancer can also cause chest pain when breathing deeply.

Chest pain can also indicate a medical emergency, such as a heart attack.

Treatment for chest pain depends on the underlying cause. If a person has any concerns about chest pain when breathing deeply, they should reach out to a doctor.