Medical News Today: Possible causes of a bubbling feeling in the chest

A bubbling feeling in the chest is a sensation that a person might describe as cracking, gurgling, or as if a bubble is about to burst. Many people experience it, and it has a variety of causes. Treatment depends on the cause.

This bubbling feeling is linked to a variety of conditions that range from mild to severe. The sensation may appear alone or occur alongside other signs and symptoms. People with a bubbling feeling in the chest should always see their doctor for a diagnosis.

Possible causes

Here, we explore 12 common causes of a bubbling feeling in the chest:

1. Asthma

woman holding chest due to bubbling feeling in chest
A bubbling sensation in the chest may be caused by asthma.

People with asthma may experience a bubbling sensation in the chest. Asthma is a lung condition that involves swelling and narrowing of the airways. It affects approximately 25 million Americans.

Other symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest

Asthma may be triggered by:

  • allergies
  • exercises
  • certain types of weather

Most people can manage their asthma with lifestyle changes and medication.

2. Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, often one that is faster than normal. It happens when the upper chambers of the heart are out of sync with the lower chambers.

Other symptoms can include:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness and confusion
  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness
  • weakness

Atrial fibrillation requires medical treatment. While it is not usually life-threatening, it can lead to complications, such as blood clots in the heart.

3. Bronchitis

Bronchitis causes inflammation of the tubes that connect the lungs to the mouth and nose (bronchial tubes). It may be short-term (acute) or last 3 months or more (chronic).

Other symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • chest tightness or pain
  • chills
  • a cough
  • mild fever

Treatment depends on the type of bronchitis a person has. Acute bronchitis is usually treated in the same way as a cold, and symptoms will typically go away in 10 to 14 days. Treatment for chronic bronchitis may include inhalers and oxygen therapy.

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4. Collapsed lung

A collapsed lung or pneumothorax happens when air leaks from the lung into the area between the lung and the chest wall.

As well as the bubbling feeling, a collapsed lung can cause:

  • a bluish tone to the skin
  • fatigue
  • flared nostrils
  • low blood pressure
  • rapid heartbeat

A collapsed lung can occur suddenly for no reason or be caused by:

  • injury
  • a medical procedure
  • lung damage

A collapsed lung should be considered a medical emergency even when symptoms are mild. Symptoms typically resolve quickly, and there are usually no future complications with prompt treatment.

Below is a 3-D model of pneumothorax which is fully interactive.
Explore the 3-D model using your mouse or touchscreen.

5. Gallbladder inflammation

Inflammation of the gallbladder or cholecystitis can be caused by blocked bile ducts, tumors, or infection.

Symptoms often flare up after eating, particularly if the meal was large or high in fat. Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • pain in the upper right or center abdomen that may spread to the right shoulder or back
  • tenderness above the abdomen when touched
  • vomiting

Some people may also notice a bubbling feeling in the chest.

Treatment involves antibiotics, painkillers, or gallbladder removal. Untreated gallbladder inflammation can lead to serious complications, some of which can be life-threatening.

6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD involves the rise of stomach acid into the food pipe.

GERD can cause:

  • a bubbling feeling in the chest
  • chest pain
  • a cough
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling like there is a lump in the throat
  • heartburn (a burning sensation in the chest just behind the breastbone)
  • a sore throat
  • sour taste in the mouth

GERD can be caused by:

  • bacterial overgrowth
  • frequent use of over-the-counter painkillers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • excessive intake of alcohol

The usual treatments for GERD and heartburn are medications and lifestyle changes.

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7. Indigestion

Indigestion is pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen that can cause a bubbling sensation in the chest and gurgling in the abdomen after eating. Indigestion is also known as dyspepsia.

People may also experience:

  • bloating
  • heartburn
  • nausea

Dyspepsia can be caused by:

  • eating too quickly or too much
  • excessive intake of alcohol or caffeine
  • fatty or spicy food
  • smoking
  • some painkillers and antibiotics

Treatment involves lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as medications.

8. Pleurisy

Pleurisy or pleuritis involves inflammation of the thin membrane that lines the inside of the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs (pleura). It is caused by an underlying medical condition.

Symptoms include:

  • sharp chest pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, or sneezing
  • shortness of breath
  • a cough and fever (in some cases)

Treatment involves addressing the underlying condition and managing pain.

9. Pleural effusion

Pleural effusion occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the space between the lining of the lung and the chest wall. It is often a symptom of another condition, such as:

Symptoms include bubbling in the chest, cough, and shortness of breath.

10. Lung tumor

Doctor looking at chest X-Ray on a tablet
Lung tumors, which may be harmless or cancerous, can be linked to a bubbling feeling in the chest.

A lung tumor may be linked to a bubbling feeling in the chest, in rare cases. Lung tumors may be harmless or cancerous.

Many people with a lung tumor do not develop symptoms until the tumor has been there for many months or even years.

When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • chest pain
  • coughing up blood
  • fever
  • a persistent cough
  • shortness of breath
  • weight loss

11. Pneumomediastinum

A condition called pneumomediastinum may lead to the symptom of a bubbling sensation in the chest, although this is an uncommon cause.

This condition is caused by trapped air in the middle of the chest under your breastbone and between your lungs that results from injury or air leakage.

There is not always an obvious explanation, but people with pneumomediastinum may experience:

  • a cough
  • hoarseness
  • neck pain
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble breathing
  • vomiting

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12. Precordial catch syndrome

Precordial catch syndrome arises when nerves in the chest are pinched or squeezed. It typically presents in children, adolescents, and people in their early 20s. It is not usually harmful, although alarming.

Symptoms include sharp chest pain that comes on suddenly and a bubbling sensation. Symptoms typically disappear with age, but there is no treatment.

Other causes

A gurgling or bubbling feeling in the chest may also be linked to other conditions, such as:

Takeaway and when to see a doctor

If anyone experiences a bubbling feeling in their chest, it is crucial that they consult a doctor. Although the bubbling may merely be indigestion, it could be a sign of something serious, such as a tumor or collapsed lung.

Anyone who experiences the following symptoms should seek emergency medical treatment:

  • difficulty breathing, especially if it starts suddenly
  • high fever
  • inability to stand up or walk properly
  • irregular pulse
  • numbness in the arm or side
  • pain that spreads to the face or neck
  • severe abdominal pain
  • severe vomiting

Prompt treatment can ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is carried out.

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