Does COPD Cause Chest Pressure?

There are a variety of different reasons for chest pain, and depending on the type of discomfort you are experiencing, it could mean different things. If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is a good idea to be educated about what kinds of chest pain and discomfort are normal for you, and when you should be concerned. There are a few specific kinds of chest discomfort, like feeling chest pressure, that can indicate an emergency situation.

Here are some different kinds of chest pain and discomfort that you should be aware of, as well as situations that call for medical attention or emergency care. 

Chest pressure

The Most Common Chest Discomfort with COPD Is Chest Tightness

Depending on your particular condition, there are a number of kinds of chest pain you might experience, from chest tightness to chest pressure to a feeling of fullness in the chest. With COPD, the most common type of chest discomfort is tightness in the chest, which is simply a side effect of the symptoms of COPD. However, while chest tightness is common for people with COPD, it often causes understandable fear and anxiety, along with aggravating the shortness of breath that is the hallmark of this disease. Accordingly, it is helpful to know what to expect when you experience the common tightness in the chest associated with COPD and when you should seek medical attention. 

Chest Tightness and COPD: What You Might Experience

Many people with COPD experience a sensation of tightness in their lungs or their chest. It can present in a number of different ways, including:

  • A sharp, pinching feeling
  • Feeling like a band is tightening around the chest
  • Feeling like the chest is stiff
  • Feeling as though something is keeping you from fully filling your lungs

This chest tightness is often accompanied by shortness of breath and wheezing, and it can make it even harder to breathe properly. 

Generally, this chest tightness can result from a few different problems associated with COPD. 

The first issue that can cause chest tightness is the mucus that builds up and consolidates within the airways or even the lungs of a person with COPD that includes chronic bronchitis. This mucus buildup needs to be cleared by productive coughing, but until it is, your airways are too narrow to breathe correctly and you may experience that feeling of tightness in your chest and lungs. Try sitting up straight, taking slower breaths and practicing breathing and coughing techniques. 

In addition to mucus consolidation in the airways and lungs, you may also experience chest tightness as a result of a lung or respiratory infection like the flu or bronchitis. In these cases, the tightness in your chest is the result of inflammation in your bronchial airways and respiratory system, which makes it difficult to get air into or out of your lungs. For someone whose COPD includes emphysema, they may also experience chest tightness because the damage to the small air sacs in your lungs, which absorb oxygen, mean that air can get trapped in the lungs, making it hard to fully exhale. In both of these cases, breathing exercises may help you breathe more efficiently and help you learn to fully empty your lungs. 

Finally, asthma can cause chest tightness as well, as the narrowing of the airways constricts your ability to inhale or exhale properly, too. If your tightness is the result of inflammation or narrowing in the airways, slow breathing can help you get more oxygen and steady your breath and anxiety.

When to Call Your Doctor or Seek Medical Treatment

The majority of the time, tightness in the chest can be treated with controlled breathing exercises, bronchodilators and other treatments. While they will not entirely rid you of chest tightness, they will help give you relief and allow you to catch your breath again. 

It is important to note, however, that prolonged chest tightness or tightness that feels different from previous sensations could be a sign of a COPD exacerbation or something more severe. If you experience something that feels new or unusual, seek medical care right away to be sure.

chest pressure COPD

What Kind of Chest Pain Indicates an Emergency Situation in COPD?

Unfortunately, the tendency toward hypoxemia, or lower blood oxygen levels, puts people with COPD at a greater risk for heart failure. However, the symptoms of a heart attack can be similar to those of COPD. As such, it is especially important for people with COPD to be aware of what kinds of chest pain may indicate a heart attack. While COPD commonly causes chest tightness, heart failure is associated with chest pressure. 

Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate heart failure, particularly if you experience them together. The signs can be slightly different for women, who often do not experience chest pressure, but may experience other symptoms. 

  • Chest pressure or a squeezing sensation: This kind of pain or discomfort usually presents in the center of the chest, or can present as a feeling of intense fullness in the chest. If these chest pains last for more than a few minutes or comes and goes, call 911.
  • Cold, clammy sweats: Often accompanied by lightheadedness, paleness, or a sensation of fluttering in the heart.
  • Nausea and vomiting: More common among women than men.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, spreading to the back, stomach, jaw or neck: Women are more likely to experience back or jaw pain, while pain in the left arm is common in both women and men.
  • Shortness of breath: Accompanied by difficulty breathing and overwhelming fatigue.

If you experience any of the above signs of heart failure—particularly chest pressure or a sensation of squeezing—call 911 and seek emergency medical attention right away. 

Additionally, people with COPD are prone to developing lung infections, which can progress to complications like pneumonia. If your lungs feel heavy and you are struggling to breathe, particularly when lying down, you should contact your doctor immediately to check for fluid in your lungs. 

Treating Chest Pain Associated with COPD

If you have any doubts about what is causing your chest pain, whether it feels like chest tightness or chest pressure, it is best to seek medical attention right away to be safe. COPD complications can go wrong quickly, so it is important to treat them seriously. 

However, if you are certain your chest tightness is the type common with COPD, talk to your doctor about how to treat it. It is likely your doctor will prescribe a number of different treatments, which could include breathing exercises and coughing techniques, medication, exercise or pulmonary rehabilitation. Oxygen therapy may also be a part of helping improve your oxygen intake.

If you are prescribed oxygen therapy, ask your doctor whether a portable oxygen concentrator is right for you. Portable oxygen concentrators, like Inogen’s innovative products, help you maintain your quality of life while helping you get the oxygen you need anytime, anywhere. You can get your oxygen treatments at home or on the go with small, lightweight portable oxygen concentrators, improving your freedom, mobility and independence while you treat your COPD. Find out more by contacting Inogen today. 



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