If you’re experiencing sharp pain when breathing, this may mean something quite serious that needs fast medical attention.

This can also mean something that’s benign.

Breathing that’s accompanied by a sharp kind of pain can be benign…or…it can be dangerous, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers nationally, and author of “The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution.”

“Because of this, if it is a new symptom you should check with your physician – especially if it is associated with shortness of breath, cold sweats or fever.”

When is sharp pain when breathing a serious issue?

“The worrisome causes include irritation of the lining of the lung (called the pleura) or the heart (called the pericardium),” says Dr. Teitelbaum. Pneumonia can cause this.

“In most cases, however, it simply turns out to be benign pain coming from tight chest wall muscles – most commonly along either side of the central chest bone (called the sternum) or on the chest wall two inches below the right or left nipple where the muscles attach.”

This problem is often referred to as costochondritis “because of the likely mistaken assumption that the pain comes from tender cartilage around the ribs and sternum,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.

The discomfort “usually originates in muscles that are tight, in areas called trigger points or the muscle insertions where they attach to the bones.

“A simple telltale? If pushing over the painful area (give a good hard push with your thumb) reproduces or relieves the pain, it is most likely to be muscular.

“If it does not, it is likely coming from something beneath the ribs – like the heart or lungs.”

Sharp pain while breathing that’s coming from the heart or lungs always warrants medical attention.

“If you have ever eaten ribs at a restaurant you can see that they are pretty thick. Pushing on them is not likely to affect the organs underneath the ribs – but will affect the pain in the muscles overlaying the ribs.

“But see your physician anyway for this symptom, to be on the safe side.”

A rib fracture can also produce this scary symptom, though with a rib fracture, there will be visible bruising.

If you’ve been experiencing a sharp kind of pain when you take breaths, it would be a smart idea to have a doctor check you out.

Dr. Teitelbaum is a board certified internist and nationally known expert in the fields of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep and pain.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.