Why Does COPD Cause Chest Tightness?

man with chest pain
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If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you probably experience a feeling of lung tightness or chest tightness from time to time. But why does this happen? And could it be a sign of something worse? Here's what you need to know about chest tightness with COPD.

What Causes Chest Tightness?

COPD can cause the chest to feel tight because of an increased amount of mucus that is consolidated in the lungs.

It's also caused by narrowing or blockage of the airways that often occurs in people with COPD. Chest tightness can make it difficult to get air in or out of your lungs, making it more difficult to breathe.

Chest tightness is also often associated with lung infections, such as chronic bronchitis or bronchiectasis.It can also be related to the narrowing of the airways that occurs in asthma.

Treating Chest Tightness

Chest tightness can often be relieved through medication and aerosol therapy, such as the use of an albuterol inhaler. Albuterol is a quick-relief medication that works as a bronchodilator, helping to open the airways. It's often used for asthma patients during flare-ups and asthma attacks. Inhalers will not cure the chest tightness that's associated with your COPD, but they can give you temporary relief.

Recognizing Signs of a Heart Attack

Feeling tightness in your chest can, of course, actually be due to lung tightness if you have COPD.

But it's important to know when your COPD might not be the cause. Chest tightness is also one of the symptoms of a heart attack. Here are the signs of a heart attack to be aware of:

  • Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that feels like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. The pain usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and the comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, stomach, jaw or neck.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Many people don't realize that the symptoms of a heart attack can be different in women than in men. Women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain. They sometimes do not experience the typical chest pains associated with a heart attack, and may delay seeking help as a result.

Seek emergency medical care right away if you are having unusual tightness in your chest. It's better to be reassured that it is just a sign of your COPD than to have a heart attack go untreated.


American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Attack Symptoms in Women. 

American Heart Association. (2015). Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. 

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