People often say that they are feeling pain in the lungs. However, there are very less pain receptors present in the lungs, which is why they are not able to process pain properly. What you assume to be lung pain, is usually pain originating from another part of the body. However, it is difficult to determine the exact source of your pain and which organ they are originating from. If you feel pain in your left lung, it is commonly believed that you are experiencing general chest pain. Here are some reasons behind what can cause pain in the left lung and what you can do about it.
Overview of Left Lung Pain
The chest contains many of the vital organs of your body, including the heart and the lungs. Due to this, when a person experiences pain in this part of the body, it is no doubt a cause of worry.
There are very few pain receptors present in the lungs, meaning that when you feel pain in the lungs, the pain is probably originating from another part of the body.
Pain in the left lung can be a sign of many other health conditions. While a symptom of left lung pain is not necessarily a medical emergency, but it could still be a sign of an underlying problem. Treatment for left lung pain depends on the underlying cause and condition.
Pain in the left lung is not an actual health condition. It is a symptom that indicates something is wrong in the body. If you are experiencing pain in the lungs, it usually means that you are feeling generalized chest pain. When you feel pain in the chest, it could be related to any organ in the body. This includes the heart, the intestinal tract, and even the lungs.
What Can Cause Pain In The Left Lung?
Here are some of the most common lung-related conditions that cause pain in the chest or lungs.
There are many types of lung infections that can cause pain in the left lung or chest pain. Some of the common infections include:
- Bacterial or viral pneumonia
- Fungal infections such as blastomycosis and histoplasmosis(1, 2, 3)
- Pulmonary actinomycosis(4)
The symptoms of these infections will vary depending on what infection you have, but some of the common symptoms include:
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then you should consult a doctor because if any type of lung infection is left untreated, it can become life-threatening.
Pleurisy is a condition where the membrane lining the inside of the chest cavity and surrounding lung tissue, known as pleura, gets inflamed. When this tissue gets inflamed, it may be swollen and irritated, leading to significant pain. Pleurisy is usually a result of a respiratory or lung infection. This condition is known to have caused the death of many historical figures, such as Benjamin Franklin.(5)
However, pleurisy is no longer a very common condition.
Asthma is a chronic and long-term lung disease that causes inflammation in the airways and irritability in the lungs, making a person more prone to experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing. Chronic wheezing and coughing linked with asthma are known to make a person feel chest tightness. This may cause a person to feel like they are experiencing pain in their lungs.
Costochondritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the tissue that connects the ribs to their respective breastbone. This condition can also cause pain that feels like the pain is originating from one of your lungs.(6)
Lung cancer does not typically cause any symptoms in the beginning. However, as lung cancer starts to spread, a person may start noticing symptoms such as shortness of breath, a persistent cough, feeling extremely tired or weak with no apparent reason, and chest pain, which many assume to be lung pain.
Pulmonary embolism is a term used to refer to a blood clot in the lungs, which can be a life-threatening condition. A blood clot in the lungs can damage a part of the lung since it blocks blood flow to the lungs and also reduces the level of oxygen in the bloodstream.(7) The most common symptom of a pulmonary embolism is shortness of breath and chest pain.
A pulmonary embolism can also cause:
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Coughing up blood
If you experience any symptoms of pulmonary embolism, it is essential to seek medical assistance at the earliest to prevent any permanent damage to the lungs. Remember that if left untreated, a blood clot in the lungs can cause death.
Pneumothorax is a term used to refer to a collapsed lung, which happens when air enters the area between the lungs and the chest wall.(8) A total or partial lung collapse can occur due to many reasons, including:
- Chest injury
- Lung cancer
- Lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Being on a ventilator
- Abdominal or chest surgery
If you have a collapsed lung, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Respiratory failure
- Persistent chest pain
- Cardiac arrest
A pneumothorax can occur suddenly, or it can develop after an illness or injury.
If you feel you may have a collapsed lung, then you should contact your local emergency services number or head to the nearest emergency room.
Pneumonia happens when a person experiences severe respiratory infection that affects either one or both the lungs. If pneumonia affects the left lung, then you may experience pain in the left lung. Some of the other symptoms of pneumonia may include shortness of breath, fever, chills, and a cough.
A buildup of fluid in between the lungs and the chest cavity is known as pleural effusion.(9) This is usually a complication resulting from other severe problems in the body, which is why it is so necessary to find out the underlying cause of the fluid buildup. A pleural effusion can occur due to a lung infection, lung cancer, as a result of heart failure, or any other acute medical condition such as pancreatitis.
Apart from chest pain, pleural effusion may also cause:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Low oxygen levels
Hyperventilation can happen to anyone during an anxiety attack. It can also be a response to some underlying medical conditions in the body. Hyperventilating causes you to start breathing rapidly, upsetting the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. This can cause:
Heart Disease and Other Heart-Related Conditions
Cardiovascular disease and other heart-related conditions can also cause chest pain, which feels like left lung pain. Some of these conditions may include:
Symptoms depend on which condition you are suffering from, but you are commonly going to experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble breathing
- Unexplained sweating
- Chills and fever
- Swelling of feet and legs
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a heart-related condition, you should seek urgent medical assistance as, in many cases, heart conditions can turn out to be life-threatening.
Why Do Other Conditions Cause Pain Near The Lungs?
The pain you feel in your left lung might actually not be in the lungs at all but in the general area of the lungs. Most of the times, this happens because of:
Pain in the Chest Wall: Chest wall pain can occur due to chest injuries, such as bruised or broken ribs, and bruising to the chest. Chronic skeletal and muscle syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, can also cause pain in the entire chest region. Chest wall pain makes you feel pain in the lungs.
Pressure: Pressure is a common symptom of many diseases that can cause pain near your lungs. These include:
Abdominal Inflammation and Irritation: Surprisingly, inflammation in the abdominal cavity can also cause chest pain. This can happen due to problems with the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. The causes of irritation and inflammation in the abdomen may include appendicitis, hernia, stomach or intestinal ulcers, gallbladder stones, and swelling of the pancreas, among others.
What about Lung Cancer?
Left lung pain is usually not caused by lung cancer, but you should nevertheless be aware of your risk. If you have a history of smoking or you are still smoking, then you have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Smoking is known to be the most common cause of lung cancer and is associated with nearly 90 percent of all cases of lung cancers.(10)
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Hoarseness in voice
- Loss of appetite
- A persistent cough that progressively gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm or spit
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and general weakness
- Persistent lung infections
Lung cancer does not typically show any symptoms during the early stages, and it is usually not recognized until it spreads from the lungs to other body parts.
Once lung cancer spreads to other body parts, it may cause:
- Bone pain, especially back or hip pain
- Balance issues
- Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then you should consult your doctor. While it is also possible that these symptoms are related to other underlying medical conditions, it is still important to know the exact cause of the symptoms. Your doctor will work together with you to determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
Diagnosis of Left Lung Pain
If you have been experiencing chest pain or what feels like a pain in your left lung for some time, then it is a good idea to consult your doctor. You should especially seek urgent medical care if you experience:
- Unexplained sweating
- Unexplained chest pain
- Intense pain that spreads through your jaw, neck, back, shoulders, and your left arm
- Shortness of breath
- Pressure, tightness, or fullness in the chest
If you find that your chest pain worsens when you cough, take a deep breath, or when you laugh, then also it is very important to see a doctor.
When you go to your doctor, you will be asked to first list your symptoms, your medical history, family history, and any medications you are currently taking. Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination to diagnose the exact cause of the pain.
Your doctor is likely to:
- Observe your breathing and assess your airflow
- Check your oxygen levels
- Listen to your heart and breath sounds
- Look for signs of other conditions, such as yellow skin or bluish fingertips
One or more of the following diagnostic tests are also likely to be prescribed to determine the exact cause of your left lung pain:
Conclusion: What to Expect in the Long-Term When Experiencing Left Lung Pain?
If you are experiencing left lung pain, then what can you expect in the long-term? Well, this depends on the severity, cause, and type of your symptoms? For example, if you have had a blood clot in your lungs, then you may need to be hospitalized for several days. You will also need to be on blood thinners for the long-term.
Treatment of left lung pain depends on the reason behind the pain. It is essential to determine first of all whether the pain is even lung-related or not. Once you have a correct diagnosis, then you and your doctor will work together to come up with a treatment plan that may include medications, surgery, or other medical procedures.
- Sarosi, G.A. and Davies, S.F., 1979. Blastomycosis. American Review of Respiratory Disease, 120(4), pp.911-938.
- Kauffman, C.A., 2007. Histoplasmosis: a clinical and laboratory update. Clinical microbiology reviews, 20(1), pp.115-132.
- Bradsher, R.W., 1996. Histoplasmosis and blastomycosis. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 22(Supplement_2), pp.S102-S111.
- Mabeza, G.F. and Macfarlane, J., 2003. Pulmonary actinomycosis. European Respiratory Journal, 21(3), pp.545-551.
- nhs.uk. 2020. Pleurisy. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pleurisy/> [Accessed 19 March 2020].
- Proulx, A.M. and Zryd, T.W., 2009. Costochondritis: diagnosis and treatment. American family physician, 80(6), pp.617-620.
- Tapson, V.F., 2008. Acute pulmonary embolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 358(10), pp.1037-1052.
- Noppen, M. and De Keukeleire, T., 2008. Pneumothorax. Respiration, 76(2), pp.121-127.
- Light, R.W., 2002. Pleural effusion. New England Journal of Medicine, 346(25), pp.1971-1977.
- Cdc.gov. 2020. What Are The Risk Factors For Lung Cancer? | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm> [Accessed 19 March 2020].