Causes of Pain on the Right Side of the Chest When Breathing

Man suffering for a sudden heart attack
Causes of Pain on the Right Side of the Chest When Breathing (Image: tommaso79/iStock/Getty Images)

Taking a deep breath and experiencing right-sided chest pain provokes physical discomfort and anxiety. Chest pain brought on or worsened by forceful breathing is called pleuritic chest pain. This symptom typically originates from an infection, injury or other condition affecting the right lung or chest wall. A person's age, health history and accompanying signs and symptoms help doctors determine the most likely causes.

Lungs

Lung infections, such as bacterial or viral pneumonia, are a frequent cause of right-sided pleuritic chest pain. A tear in the tissue covering the lung is a less common cause of severe breathing-related pain, which often radiates into the shoulder. This condition, known as a pneumothorax, typically occurs without warning and most commonly affects smokers. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases may cause pleuritic chest pain due to inflammation of the lung tissue, although both sides of the chest are often affected. Breathing-related pain can also occur due to a tumor affecting the lung.

Chest Wall

Injuries or conditions that affect the chest wall -- the rib cage and associated muscles -- are another common cause of pleuritic chest pain. Chest muscle strain due to strenuous exercise may cause pain experienced primarily with deep breathing. Vigorous activity can also lead to costochondritis, a condition involving inflammation of the connective tissues of the rib cage. Tenderness and pleuritic pain on one side of the chest are typical symptoms. A blow to the right chest from a fall, accident or contact sports can cause a bruised or broken rib with breathing-related pain. Less commonly, a tumor of the right chest wall may be the source of the pain.

Blood Clot

A blood clot in the lung -- known as a pulmonary embolism -- is a potentially life-threatening cause of pleuritic chest pain. Risk factors include smoking, a recent leg or hip fracture, major surgery, pregnancy, cancer and prolonged inactivity, such as with a long car ride or flight. Other signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, sweating, anxiety, rapid breathing, a fast heart rate and coughing, which may produce bloody phlegm.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Seek emergency medical attention for any right-sided chest pain associated with difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Even if the pain is not causing breathing difficulty, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible to evaluate unexplained pleuritic pain, especially if associated with an injury, fever or other symptoms. Remember that pain is a warning sign to seek medical attention.

Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.

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