Along with a host of other symptoms, chest pain can happen due to smoking and may signal that a person has a smoking-related health condition.

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals and toxic substances that can irritate the lungs and chest.

Inhaling tobacco smoke narrows blood vessels throughout a person’s body, including those that transport blood to the heart. This can have consequences for a person’s heart health.

Smoking can also cause lung damage. This can make breathing more difficult and result in chest pain. For example, it may trigger asthma in some people.

The person may experience different sensations or varying severity of chest pain. Quitting smoking can also cause chest pain temporarily as the body weans off it.

Keep reading to learn more about how smoking can cause chest pain.

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Yes, smoking may cause chest pain in some people.

Chest pain can be a symptom of respiratory diseases, heart diseases, or cancer that smoking can cause.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking causes 1 in 4 deaths from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.

Coronary heart disease can cause the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart to narrow and make the heart work harder. This can result in symptoms of chest pain and other heart concerns.

Smoking can also irritate the lungs, damaging the airways and small sacs (alveoli). This can lead to various respiratory diseases that have chest pain as a symptom. These can include:

Smoking increases the risk of blood clots anywhere in the body. If one forms in the veins, the bloodstream may carry it into the lungs and cause chest pain when inhaling, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).

Typically, smokers are more likely to die from COPD than nonsmokers.

The reasons why smoking causes chest pain may relate to its effect on the heart and lungs. For example, chest pain may result from inflammation and irritation in either or both organs.

Heart disease

A 2015 study explored the symptoms and treatments for heart attacks, which can happen when plaque builds up in the arteries. These plaques may restrict blood flow to the heart, making less oxygen available for the heart. A lack of oxygen may then injure the heart.

As a result of injury, people may experience chest pain that travels from the left arm to the neck, along with the following:

Also, heart disease may raise a smoker’s blood pressure, which can also cause chest pain for some people.

The researchers in the study emphasize that heart attacks are preventable by taking early diet and lifestyle measures. These can include:

  • reducing smoking, as well as consumption of nicotine, alcohol, and other substances
  • monitoring blood pressure weekly
  • taking part in daily exercise
  • taking measures to manage or maintain a healthy body weight

Respiratory diseases

COPD

Thousands of harmful chemicals can be found in cigarette smoke. Some of these toxic chemicals can directly affect the lungs and contribute to COPD by:

  • narrowing the airways, due to the swelling of tubes in the lungs
  • destroying the alveoli
  • weakening the lung’s defenses

COPD can lead to chest pain or tightness. Other symptoms can include:

  • a chronic cough
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • frequent chest infections, which can lead to chest pain or discomfort

Smoking can also paralyze the cilia-cleaning system, which lines the bronchi (tubes in the lungs).

Learn more about COPD.

Lung cancer

According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, about 80–90% of lung cancer deaths have links to smoking.

At least 70 of the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause cancer. One way cigarette smoke leads to cancer is by directly damaging the DNA in cells, experts suggest.

Lung cancer can cause chest pain alongside the following symptoms:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss

Learn more about how smoking can cause cancer.

Asthma

Additionally, tobacco smoke commonly triggers asthma.

When a person has an asthma attack, the lining of their airways swells to the point that breathing becomes difficult. The narrowed airways allow less air to flow in and out of the lungs. Plus, the cells lining the airways may produce excess mucus, making the breathing difficulties worse.

This can result in symptoms including:

  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath

The pain may differ depending on the cause:

Heart disease

If a person has pericarditis, a type of heart disease, it can cause a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain that worsens on breathing deeply or lying down.

The pain may differ in someone experiencing angina or a heart attack. Both conditions can cause tight, dull, or heavy chest pain.

Smoking destroys lung tissue, so blood leaving the lungs carries lower amounts of oxygen. Because there is less lung tissue, the heart also has to work harder — and uses more oxygen — to push the blood through the lung tissue that is left.

Low blood oxygen to the heart muscles can lead to angina. In the case of a heart attack, no oxygen reaches a part of the heart.

Angina may be temporary, but people should not ignore it.

Is it a heart attack?

Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweaty or clammy skin
  • feeling of heartburn or indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing or wheezing
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  2. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:

  1. Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
  2. Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
  3. Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
  4. Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
  5. If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.

Use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:

  1. An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
  2. Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.

Respiratory disease

Chest tightness accompanying COPD can make it difficult for a person to breathe or take deep breaths. Also, coughing from bronchitis can cause pain in the chest.

The pain may differ from person to person.

However, the cause of chest pain may not be due to a heart or lung concern. Other conditions, such as panic attacks, can cause chest pain.

People should consult with a doctor to help them diagnose what could be causing chest pain.

People who stop smoking may feel tightness in their chest for a few weeks after quitting. This may be due to muscle soreness from coughing or muscle tension resulting from nicotine cravings.

The tightness in the chest may also be due to the cilia, the cleaning system of the bronchi, growing back and starting to expel the mucus that has been collecting in the lungs.

Experts advise taking some slow, deep breaths to help counteract these effects.

Learn more about how the body reacts when people quit smoking.

Besides causing chest pain, smoking can harm almost every body organ. Over 16 million people in the United States have a smoking-related disease.

Smoking is a risk factor for other conditions, such as:

  • certain cancers of the mouth, nose, and other organs
  • stroke
  • diabetes

It can also increase a person’s risk of developing tuberculosis, eye diseases, and immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.

The ALA also highlights certain smoking-related health risks that people may not be so aware of, including:

  • age-related macular degeneration, an eye condition that can result in blindness
  • erectile dysfunction due to the narrowing of blood vessels in the penis
  • fertility concerns
  • ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilized egg implants itself somewhere outside of the uterus, which can be life threatening and does not result in pregnancy
  • hip fracture, as smokers lose bone density faster than non-smokers
  • cleft lip and cleft palate, when the infant’s lip or mouth does not develop properly during pregnancy
  • periodontitis, a gum infection that decays the bone supporting the teeth and can lead to tooth loss

If a person has chest pain that comes and goes, they should still see their physician to rule out any serious underlying cause. If the pain goes away quickly but a person still worries, they should also contact their physician to help put their mind at ease.

Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack. It is important to call immediately for emergency medical assistance if a person has sudden chest pain or chest pain that does not go away.

Smoking causes many health conditions, including heart and lung concerns. Chest pain may occur as a symptom of these conditions or simply due to the irritation that cigarette smoking causes.

Smoking-related chest pain can differ based on the person and the underlying cause of the pain.

If a person experiences sudden chest pain that spreads to their arms, back, neck, or jaw, they need immediate medical assistance, as they could be having a heart attack.