Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Chest Pain: What You Need to Know

Causes of chest pain

When you experience chest pain, it can feel like your world is ending. The intensity of the pain is often enough to send anyone into a panic. However, pain in the chest doesn’t always indicate a heart attack or other serious condition. Often, it is a result of something much less concerning. Here are some things you should know about chest pain and what to do if you experience it.


What is chest pain?

It can be described as any pain in the area of your chest. For some people, the pain is in the middle of the chest, while for others it is in one of the sides of the chest. It can also be accompanied by a feeling of pressure, tightness, heaviness, or burning. It can come from many different areas of the chest. It can originate in the heart, lungs, or blood vessels. Chest pain may be short-term pain (acute pain) or long-lasting pain (chronic pain). Pain can also radiate to the jaw and arm or through to the back. 



There are many possible causes. Some of the most common causes include: 

  • Chest infection (bacterial or viral) – People who have recently been sick with a viral or bacterial infection are at risk for developing chest pain. Chest infections can cause pain in the area of the lungs, which can cause pain in the chest. Sometimes it is worse on deep breathing. 
  • Chest wall pain – A condition that is caused by an injury to the ribs, muscles, or cartilage in the chest wall.
  • Heartburn – When you have overeaten or consumed a large quantity of spicy or acidic foods. Heartburn can occur when the acid in your stomach refluxes into the esophagus. The pain can sometimes be felt in the chest.
  • Inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (pericarditis) – An infection of the heart lining (pericardium) can cause inflammation of the inner lining of the heart.
  • Coronary artery disease (angina) – In this condition, the arteries supplying the heart with blood are narrowed. This usually causes chest pain on exertion. 
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction) – A fatty plaque in the heart arteries gets inflamed and ruptures causing a clot to form in the artery. This is a medical emergency. 


When should you be concerned?

If your chest pain is new, or you have other symptoms alongside the pain, you should see your doctor. The type of pain and other symptoms you have can help determine the cause of your pain. For example, if you have heavy pain in your chest, accompanied by nausea and dizziness, it could be a sign of a heart attack. If you have pain in your chest along with shortness of breath, it could be a sign of a respiratory infection. If you have a burning ache in your chest, along with fatigue and indigestion, it could be heartburn.  If in doubt, call an ambulance and seek help immediately.


Other common causes

  • Arthritis – Arthritis in the ribs can cause pain in the chest.
  • Rib fracture – A fracture of the ribs can cause pain in the chest. This type of chest pain can last for a long time and worsen with coughing and breathing.
  • Anxiety – An anxiety attack can cause a feeling of tightness in the chest.
  • Costochondritis – An inflammation of the joints connecting the ribs to the breastbone. It can cause pain in the chest.
  • Stress – A lot of stress can cause tension in the chest.
  • Sprain – A sudden movement that stretches or tears the muscles or ligaments in your chest.
  • Heart palpitations – A feeling of irregular or fast beating of the heart.


More serious causes of chest pain

  • Aortic dissection – A tear in the wall of the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
  • Coronary artery disease  A disease that affects the blood vessels supplying the heart.
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack) A sudden loss of blood flow to part of the heart, which results in chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea.
  • Pulmonary embolus – A blood clot that forms in the lungs, blocking blood vessels.


Bottom line

Chest pain is a common symptom that can be caused by various diseases. It can also be a symptom of anxiety, stress, or heart palpitations. If you are experiencing chest pain, it is important to see a doctor to find out the cause and how to treat it. You should also make sure that you know what the warning signs of a heart attack are, so you can seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience them.

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