On and off pains in ribs, back and chest for 3 months - scared my lungs will collapse - please help

My name is Carly. I'm 18, about 5'8 & weigh around 165. For the past 3 months, I have had on and off pains in my back, ribs and chest. They are not always there during the day and come up very randomly. The first time I had a pain was when I was sitting in my bed and all of the sudden, i got this very sharp pain in my ribs in the left side and it hurt to breathe deeply. It started to subside after a few minutes and by morning, the pain was completely gone. I was terrified about what this pain could have been and scared myself into thinking I had a pnuemothorax. I saw & called my doctor several times that week and she listened to my lungs every time saying they sounded perfect. I had a chest x-ray and a ECG a few months prior to this happening (was complaining of chest tightness) so It was not recommended to get another xray due to excessive radiation. The pains rarely progress or get worse when I breathe, but that sometimes happens. The pains are also on both sides occasionally, but more on the left side and I sometimes feel like I can hear gurgling in my ribs on that side. The pain is closer to the bottom ribs and radiates to my back sometimes and if I do experience chest pain, it is normally around my boobs. I saw a pulmonologist about a month ago who did a physical exam on me and said the same thing my other doctors have said - my lungs sounded perfect & the air was circulating well. These pains will happen for a few days to a week and then go away for around 2 weeks and come back and every time they come back, they scare me and I am absolutely terrified of having a spontaneous pneumothorax since I seem to be having some of those symptoms. I don't smoke, I don't have a family history of lung problems, nor am i sick or had an infection, but I am tall and am scared that I have those 'blebs' in my lungs that could rupture at any time. I do have a history of severe anxiety and am taking medications for that so please help me find reassurance. Thank you so much.

28 Replies

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  • Dear Carly, if you have had all the tests done its unlikely to be your lungs. You are scaring yourself to death worrying, I had the same thing and it turned out to be chronic indigestion, per haps you could try indigestion remedy when it happens and see if it improves. All the best

  • Hi qwince1,

    The first time I got the pain, I tried taking gas tablets to see if the pain had anything to do with gas & stomach problems like that and it did nothing. I have also taken Excedrin's and Ibuprofens and have used heating pads which have also done nothing. And I did get an xray, but I got it a few months prior to getting these pains so my doctor didn't recommend me to get another one due to excessive radiation so if it is my lungs or some other organ in my chest, I won't really know considering i got the xray BEFORE this pain ever occurred. I'm just scared out of my mind. Thank you for everyone's replies though.

  • Have they checked your gallbladder? Do you have good posture? Asthma? Checking your symptoms out on the internet is never a good idea... It could cause you to worry. It could also be pain radiating from your back muscles....Either way... you'll be in my prayers and pray your feel better soon.....

    Heather

  • Hi hekele1975,

    I have not been checked for my gallbladder, I do not have asthma and I normally have pretty decent posture since I needed pretty nice posture for ballet and orchestra, but I haven't had the best posture since these pains have been bothering me. I've been laying & sitting down a lot which probably hasn't helped pains in my back. One of my worst habits is checking my symptoms online which you are so right about.. It just pretty much scares me too much and actually introduced me to the whole 'spontaneous pneumothorax' thing. I didn't even know that could happen until I looked it up. I wish I never did to be completely honest with you. Thank you for your prayers & suggestions.

  • Why do you mention being tall as a factor ? You are not that tall really at 5'8"

  • Hi deejames,

    I mentioned being tall (I'm in the 91 percentile for my height & age range, so I consider myself to be decently tall) because being tall is a factor of a spontaneous pneumothorax, along with some of this pain and I'm scared out of my mind.

  • Hi Carly,

    I've had similar on/off pains just as you describe. For me they started in childhood and continue to this day (I am now in my 50s). When I mentioned it to the doctor I was told that sometimes it is possible to get pain in cartilage for unknown reasons.

    As you have been checked out for any serious cause, I think you should try to ignore the pain and get on with life. Anxiety will just fuel the pain. Have you tried any relaxation techniques or meditation? They really do work if they are practiced regularly.

    Thank you for writing this post as I find it comforting to know that someone else has similar rib etc pains as I get sometimes.

    I wish you all the best

  • Hi anniephys,

    My parents and even my doctors have all agreed on the same view as you. Although my doctors and parents are reassuring me that this pain isn't serious, my anxiety is still driving me mad since there is no explanation as to why I have gotten these pains and not knowing is terrifying to me and the fact that a pneumothorax commonly happens spontaneously in people my age, scares me to death. Thank you for your suggestion, though. I have been trying to shrug it off and live as normally as I can along with taking some anxiety medications so I'll keep doing my best.

  • See a McTimony Chiropractor. There is a possibility that you have overtight muscles which are in spasm. If the spasms are released then the problem could go away.

    Doctors have very little understanding if any at all concerning the issue of how muscle behaviour can cause all sorts of problems.

    Not sure if this will help. It is just one thing that can be confirmed or eliminated as you begin your own investigations.

  • Hi johnsmith,

    Thank you for your suggestion, I'll look into some chiropractic & muscle solutions.

  • Sounds like you are getting yourself worked up over nothing. You've been cleared a few times and should be thrilled. I had pain similar to what you described after surgery and radiation. Turned out to be ribs out of alignment, inflamed cartridge. Can you see a chiropractor? Although with a " gurgling noise". Sounds more like indigestion. Be grateful you are young and in good health, get out and enjoy it!)

  • Hi kmjtt,

    Although I do definitely agree that my anxiety is working me up driving me insane, my anxiety has never caused me physical pain like this before which is why i don't think my anxiety is the only factor as to why this is happening. I absolutely hate that I have been so scared about this and wish I could just blow it off, but it seems to be consuming me and It's difficult to just forget about pain that makes me hurt throughout the day. Thank you so much for your response & suggestion though.

  • Hi there i have the same problems like my lower back hurts my side my chest and sometimes in the middle of my back is red and burise it comes and goes like when i breath in and out the pain is unbelievable it almost feels like im getting a heart attack. ..i think its my bed i have a very bad mattress and i also smoke too...i have seen the docs for this and they all say i am fine...i to dont know what else too do

  • Hi minty12,

    I understand your pain in some ways. Although I don't really get pains when I breathe in, i understand the lower back & chest pains. The lower back pain can definitely be due to your mattress or if you lay or sit down a lot. My lower back has felt super sore from always sitting and laying down from this pain so just hang in there! I get what you're going through - you're not alone. Thank you for your reply.

  • Hya hun sounds like u have chostocondritis I suffer with this and can be scary when u first start with it it is the muscles and tendons between your ribs having spasms there is no cure but you can have few months without symptoms then it will just come on anytime Diazipam is the only thING that helps a bit hope u feeling better soon x

  • Hi lulu47,

    My pulmonologist mentioned costochondritis too so it sounds likely that that could be causing my pain in my back, chest & such. If I go see him again, I'll see if that is my diagnosis. Thank you for your suggestion!

  • Hello Carly, I know that it's tough being 18, so many things happening in your life at your age, and these pains are making everything much worse. I can see that you have done all the sensible stuff and had yourself checked out by doctors and had xrays rtc..

    Have you had a blood test recently? If not ask about testing your Vitamin D levels?

    As an aside have you thought about trying complimentary therapies? When our daughter was 10 she fell seriously ill , she went through so much trauma with a very bad stomach problem. We did the usual thing doctors, hospital specialists etc.. Nothing was helping, until we asked for her to be referred to the Royal Hospital for Integrated Medicine, Great Ormond Street, London. I had heard about the amazing work of the doctors and specialists there on the radio. She is now also 18 and is so much better.

    We now only have to have check ups every 6 months. You will need to be referred by your GP, though some are not fans of Homeopathic medicine. Our GP was not pleased with us asking, but we stuck to our guns, as they admitted that they couldn't do anymore for her! He eventually agreed, and years later he said it was the best thing that we could have done for her, and I believe that he has referred other young people to the hospital!!

    It's worth thinking about. The treatment is free, you will just need to get transport there. All the best to you

  • Hi wayside7,

    Thank you for your reply & understanding. I have not had my blood drawn, but I should be getting blood work done soon anyways so I will definitely mention vitamen d levels! I have also been to several therapies already and am being referred to a psychiatrist on Thursday to talk about a new anxiety medication for me. Although that hospital sounds great, I live no where near London (not even in the same country) and highly doubt I would get referred there and it would be hard to be transported there too. Thank you for the suggestion though!

  • Hi Danielsc15,

    I am so pleased that you can get to talk to someone. I really hope it helps you. If you are in Europe, maybe there is a similar hospital in your country? Worth some research. All the best to you, you will find an answer to your problems. Looking on the positive side, a friend of mine who is a doctor said, that the young people who have to overcome medical or emotional problems, make much better, kinder adults in the end.

  • That's awesome and very hopeful. Thank you for the advice & suggestions, wayside7.

  • Hi Carly,

    I'm 17 and experience simular problems. First thing is not to panic, anxiety and getting stressed out only makes these things worse. So as hard as it may be sometimes (trust me I panic too!) just try and relax.

    I've been to various doctors and had various scans and have too been told I'm ok. I've had allergy tests and everything has been clear. I've been having these problems for over a year and sometimes episodes can be months apart but they always come back and it can feel like a car crash waiting to happen.

    So although I don't have an answer as to what is up, I guess I just wanted to say that you're not the only young person with these problems. And although it is scary not knowing what's going on inside you, try and stay calm about it. I hope you find the answers soon 😊

    Mary

  • Hi mfmeilton,

    Thank you so much for the kind words. Anxiety has been extremely hard for me lately so I really appreciate that! It's good to know that there is someone I can relate to about this. I'll try to hang in there, thank you so much for your reply, girl.

  • I agree that if all the tests are fine it is unlikely it is a lung problem. Is there any possibility though that the pain is in your ribs/breastbone/spine? If your ribs are very tender to touch, or if the edges of your breastbone are really tender, and if you have a family history of inflammatory arthritis or other autoimmune diseases, then it may be worth asking about a referral to rheumatology. Costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage between ribs) can mimic lung or heart or indigestion pain, and is quite common in various forms of inflammatory arthritis. If you have any other joint pains that aren't from overuse or injury, then that might also point to it being a good idea to see a rheumatologist.

  • Hi earthwitch,

    I do definitely have rib pains and sometimes some ribs will be tender but I have not noticed that in my spine or breastbone. When I got evaluated by my GP one of the several times I saw her over this, she had me bend over & pushed on certain areas around my back and didn't see any complications in my spine and didn't see a form of scoliosis or anything either. Also, when I saw a pulmonologist, he pressed and pushed on my ribs and sternum and didn't feel anything abnormal either. He did mention costochondritis, but he didn't 100% diagnose me with that (although I wish he did so I could have an answer). He did say to come back if I still have pain and he can take another xray and compare the xray I took months before, so I'm thinking about calling him back soon. I am also changing to a different anxiety medication that will hopefully help me be a little less apprehensive all of the time and finally start going back to my normal life. I look into rheumatology, thank you!

  • Hi my Anxiety has been over the top i cant sleep at night my mind worry sick thinking something bad is happening to my body my friends and family says i am over thinking too much nuttin is wrong with you ...but i know my body and i know when something doesnt feel right this thing has consumed me in every way...my brain is working over time...i hurt all over ...and it leaves me lil time to think about the kids that i have i really happy that i found this website cause i now know that i am not alone neither or you...please keepnme posted

  • Hi minty12,

    My anxiety is almost the exact same ad yours. I can relate to you almost 100%, i just don't have stomach pains. My anxiety works in the same exact way yours does though. I will keep you posted & hang in there!

  • If you feel you over-react to aches and pains, it might be worth looking at some of the forums which support those with health anxieties. Dr Google is a great information provider but it can really mess with your head!

  • Hi calceolaria,

    You are very right about Dr Google! Most of the time it really does just mess with my head and make me more scared! I already am a part of anxiety forums and everything also! Thank you for your suggestions.

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