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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

The Reasons Behind Your COPD Chest Pains

Posted by Erin Lowry on Mar 11, 2019 9:30:00 AM


The Reasons Behind Your COPD Chest Pains

For those with COPD, chest pain and tightness may not be a new symptom, but it is an annoying one.

Chest pain and tightness can simply be a nuisance, or it can be a sign of something more serious going on.

If you are having serious chest pains that are abnormal, contact 911 right away, as it can be very serious.

If the pains are normal (for you) and do not feel as serious, contact your doctor to schedule an appointment to check the cause of you pains.

Either way, chest pains from COPD are something to get checked out to make sure the cause is not anything besides your COPD.

Causes of COPD Chest Tightness

There are many different causes for COPD chest pains, and it can be different for every individual.

For many with COPD, the large amount of mucus in the lungs can cause a feeling of tightness in the chest.

As mucus builds up in the lungs and airways, it can cause the feeling of narrowing airways.mucus build up in the airways

Chest tightness can make it extremely difficult to breathe, as the airways are very narrow.

Chest tightness can often lead to chest pain, or for some, chest tightness can be painful on its own.

Another cause of chest pain for those with COPD is muscle pain, as the diaphragm weakens the surrounding muscles have to work harder to help breathe.

These muscles have not been trained to work like this, so there may be pain as they have to work harder.

The surrounding muscles have to partially compensate for a weak diaphragm, as they cannot fully restore breathing without the diaphragm.

Lung infections can also be a cause of chest pains, causing excess mucus or even swelling.

If it isn’t a lung infection, it is possible that it could be asthma, as asthma narrows the airways which can also cause chest pains.

Managing COPD Pain

Depending on the cause of COPD chest pain it can determine the path of treatment.

Medications may be prescribed by a doctor in order to help manage chest pains from COPD.

Depending on the severity of the pains, your doctor may prescribe ibuprofen, or something such as an opioid.

If medication will not bring a resolution to your pain, the focus may be on managing the pain.

Some things your doctor may recommend are focus on breathing, eating healthy, and pulmonary rehabilitation.

spirometerThe importance of practicing inhalation and exhalation can help strengthen muscles used to breathe as well as help you feel more relaxed when breathing.

Pursed lip breathing is a great way to help calm yourself down and work on proper breathing.

Here is an anxiety guide for COPD that breaks down how to pursed lip breathe.

By maintaining a healthy diet, it can reduce the amount of gas and bloating you may experience.

Also eating 5 small meals versus 3 large meals can reduce the amount of bloating you may experience as well.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help strengthen muscles surrounding the lungs, as well as help reduce any pain in the lungs.

Pulmonary rehabilitation includes physical therapy, emotional and mental support and breathing retraining, to help decrease stress in the lungs and improve strength.

The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is not to train the lungs, but to train the surrounding muscles to be stronger.

It is possible to increase surrounding muscle strength by 20 to 25 percent.

This is key to lower the amount of pain associated with muscle pain, so training them can help reduce muscle pain.

COPD & Heart Failure Risk

Another possible cause for COPD chest pains is heart failure, though not extremely common, it is something to keep an eye out for.

Heart failure risk can be very serious, so if any chest pain is abnormal, contact 911 right away.

For those with COPD, oxygen levels in the blood are naturally a bit lower, which can put the heart at risk.

COPD and heart failure are both more likely if the individual is a smoker or has previously smoked.

COPD chest pains and heart attacks have similar symptoms, so it is important to know the signs of a heart attack.

Symptoms to look for:

  • Chest pain (pressure, squeezing or fullness) and lasts longer than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • Pain residing in one or both arms, back, stomach, jaw or neck
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest pains)
  • Cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness

It is important to note that women and men may experience different symptoms.

Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back/jaw pain.

Due to its common symptoms, many do not seek medical attention for symptoms of a heart attack.

As many symptoms can come and go, many do not realize that they are suffering from a heart attack.

When to Contact Your Doctor:

If you notice any chest pains, make an appointment with your doctor to narrow down the cause.

They may want to revisit your medical history to get a better idea of what the cause is, if it is just from COPD or if there is something else going on.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have a hard time walking or talking, your heart is beating irregularly (fast/abnormal beats), your lips and/or fingers look blue or grey and if you are struggling to catch your breath even with the help of medication.

All these could be signs of something more serious, so it is important to seek medical attention if you notice any of them.


There are many causes of COPD chest pain, often it is just a symptom of COPD and outside of medication and some other forms of therapy.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can be used to help strengthen muscles surrounding the lungs and provide emotional and mental support.

No matter the cause of chest pains, it is best to get it checked out by a doctor in order to determine the exact cause, which can allow the cause to be treated if it is able to be.

Even if it is just a symptom of your COPD, you then know that pain and will not need to return to the doctor every time.



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