Chest pain can be uncomfortable and concerning. There are many different causes of chest pain. Some can be musculoskeletal, some gastrointestinal, some respiratory, and some can be related to cardiac issues. In this article, we’ll discuss common causes of chest pain.
Because some possible causes of chest pain can be related to issues with heart health, it is recommended to see your doctor if you are experiencing frequent or recurring chest pain.
What Causes Chest Pain?
Chest pain refers to a painful sensation experienced in the chest. It can occur on the left side, right side, center, or entire chest area depending on the cause of the chest pain. There are many different possible causes of chest pain. Chest pain can be caused by heart issues, lung issues, digestive issues, or musculoskeletal issues. (1)
Heart Issues That Cause Chest Pain
Various issues related to the heart can cause pain in the chest. (2) If you experience any of these symptoms or suspect you may be suffering from any one of these conditions, you should seek immediate medical attention:
1. Heart Attack
A heart attack is certainly the most serious and urgent cause of chest pain. Chest pain is one of the five major symptoms of a heart attack. The other four are pain in the jaw, neck, or back; pain in the arms or shoulders; shortness of breath, weakness, and lightheadedness. If a person thinks they have a heart attack, they should seek immediate medical help, as the sooner one is seen for treatment, the greater their chances of survival are.
Myocarditis is another possible cause of chest pain that is related to heart health. Myocarditis is a condition in which the heart becomes inflamed and can cause symptoms that are similar to those of a heart attack, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and rapid or irregular heartbeat. It is typically caused by a type of viral infection.
Angina is a condition that is caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart and is a symptom of coronary artery disease. It is experienced as a feeling of pressure or squeezing in the chest area. It may also cause pain in the shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or arms.
4. Mitral Valve Prolapse
This condition is characterized by a valve in the heart that is unable to close fully, which can result in rapid heart rate, fatigue, and discomfort or pain in the chest.
5. Coronary Artery Dissection
This is a rare condition in which tearing occurs in the wall of the coronary artery. If the deepest layer of the artery wall tears, it can cause blood to leak through, build up, and cause a bulge—which could result in a heart attack. This is one of the more dangerous causes of sharp chest pain and can be felt as severe pain across the chest, back, abdomen or neck.
Pericarditis is inflammation of the sac around the heart, unlike myocarditis which is inflammation of the heart itself. It can cause severe pain in the chest behind the breast bone, a buildup of fluid around the heart, and obstructive shock, a condition when the heart cannot fill with blood effectively. Like myocarditis, pericarditis is usually caused by a viral infection.
7. Aortic Aneurism or Aortic Dissection
The aorta is the main artery that leads to the heart. An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of the aorta. Aortic dissection is a tear in the layers of the aorta. Either condition can cause the aorta to rupture and can cause serious chest pain. Both conditions are medical emergencies that require immediate medical attention.
These 7 deadly causes of chest pain are all medical emergencies. If you suspect that you may be suffering from any of the above-mentioned heart-related conditions, it is advised to seek immediate medical help.
Digestive Issues That Cause Chest Pain
Various issues related to the digestive system can also cause chest pain. (3) These tend to be less serious than heart-related conditions, but still can have significant health effects and may influence the quality of life:
1. Peptic Ulcers
Peptic ulcers are small sores that develop in the gastrointestinal lining. They can cause pain in the abdomen, especially after eating, as well as bloating, nausea, and vomiting. They may also cause discomfort in the chest.
2. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD, also commonly called “acid reflux,” is a condition in which the contents of the stomach move back up the esophagus into the throat. It can result in regurgitation, vomiting, nausea, pain in the throat, and chest pain.
3. Esophageal Spasms
Spasms or contractions in the esophagus can also cause chest pain, as well as difficulty swallowing, heartburn, and regurgitation of food.
4. Esophageal Rupture
Esophageal rupture refers to a rupture or burst in the food pipe. It can cause sudden, severe chest pain as well as vomiting and shortness of breath. It is more likely to occur after a trauma or procedure to the esophagus.
Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can also cause chest pain. People with pancreatitis may also notice pain in the abdomen that radiates to the back, as well as fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Musculoskeletal Issues That Cause Chest Pain
Musculoskeletal issues can also cause chest pain. (4) These are also less serious than heart-related issues but may nevertheless have a negative impact on quality of life:
1. Muscle Strain
Muscle strain is a common cause of chest pain and can occur from overworking the muscle during physical activity. This can result in inflammation of the muscles and tendons of the chest and may cause persistent chest pain.
2. Rib Injury
An injury to the ribs can also result in chest pain. This can occur from bruises, breaks, or fractures. Even putting too much pressure on the ribs, such as lying face down on a hard surface for too long, can cause minor injuries to the ribs that can result in chest pain.
Costochondritis is a condition in which the cartilage of the rib cage becomes inflamed and can result in pain and tenderness in the chest that may get worse when one is lying down, exercising, coughing, sneezing, or breathing heavily.
Respiratory Issues That Cause Chest Pain
Certain lung issues can also be possible causes of chest pain. (5) Some of the common respiratory issues that can cause chest pain include:
Asthma is a common respiratory disorder in which the airways of the respiratory system become inflamed. It can result in wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and tightness or pain in the chest.
2. Collapsed Lung
A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) can also cause chest pain. Along with chest pain, someone with a collapsed lung may experience discomfort while breathing, increased rate of breath, shortness of breath, and swelling on one side of the chest.
3. Pulmonary Embolism
This is a condition in which a blood clot obstructs the artery sending blood to the lungs. It can cause chest pain, back pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, hypoxia, sweating, and swelling.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that affects the lung and can result in chest pain, severe coughing, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.
Pleurisy is inflammation of the lung membranes. The inflamed lung tissue can cause chest or shoulder pain that gets worse with certain activities like coughing or sneezing.
Other Causes of Chest Pain
In addition to the common causes of chest pain mentioned above, chest pain may also be caused by panic attacks or a hiatal hernia.
What Are Six Common Non Cardiac Causes of Chest Pain?
The most common non cardiac causes of chest pain are:
- Peptic ulcers
- Muscle strain
As we can see, there are many different causes of chest pain. Knowing the common causes of chest pain may help you determine what is causing your chest pain; however, because some causes of chest pain can be life-threatening, it is recommended to consult with a doctor to properly diagnose and provide treatment for your chest pain.
If the cause of your chest pain is obvious, such as from a recent muscle strain or indigestion, then you may not need to seek treatment, especially if the discomfort goes away in a relatively short period of time.
If you are experiencing frequent, recurring chest pain, however, or your chest pain is severe or sudden, it is strongly advised to seek professional medical attention to properly diagnose your condition.