Chest pain is a broad term for any pain, tightness or discomfort felt in the chest area. In most cases it is something minor and goes away. However, it can be serious. Chest pain can be sharp or dull or even manifest as a pressure-like sensation, squeezing, choking, numbness, or some other type of discomfort.
Depending on the underlying cause, the symptoms can last from less than a second to days or weeks. It can occur frequently or rarely and might occur either unpredictably or under known circumstances. Because chest pain can accompany medical conditions such as heartburn, anxiety, angina, and heart attack; it is important for a doctor to evaluate you as quickly as possible.
Sometimes chest pain feels crushing or burning such as angina. In certain cases, the pain travels up the neck, into the jaw, and then radiates to the back or down one or both arms.
What causes chest pain?
There are several causes of chest pain ranging from sore muscles, prolonged coughing, indigestion through to panic attacks, heart, lung, back, shoulder or gall bladder problems. Chest pain is serious because, even mild chest tightness or discomfort can be the first sign of something more serious such as a heart attack. Common causes of chest pain includes;
- Heart attack – due to blocked blood flow often resulting from a blood clot to your heart muscle.
- Angina – occurs as a result of poor blood flow to your heart. This is often due to buildup of thick plaques on the inner walls of the arteries that carry blood to your heart. These plaques narrow the arteries and restrict the heart’s blood supply, particularly during exertion.
- Aortic dissection – a life-threatening condition which involves the main artery leading from your heart (aorta). If the inner layers of this blood vessel separate, blood is forced between the layers and can cause the aorta to rupture.
- Pericarditis – inflammation of the sac surrounding your heart. It usually causes sharp pain that gets worse when you breathe in or when you lie down.
Many lung disorders can cause chest pain, including:
- Pneumonia – inflammation of the lungs, usually due to an infection
- Pulmonary embolism – this occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in a lung (pulmonary) artery, blocking blood flow to lung tissue.
- Pleurisy – if the membrane that covers your lungs becomes inflamed, it can cause chest pain that worsens when you inhale or cough.
- Lung collapse – occurs due to leakage of air into the space between the lung and the ribs.
- Pulmonary hypertension – occurs when you have high blood pressure in the arteries carrying blood to the lungs, which can produce chest pain.
Chest pain can be caused by disorders of the digestive system, such as:
- Heartburn – a burning sensation behind the breastbone after eating
- Swallowing disorders – disorders of the esophagus can make swallowing difficult and even painful.
- stomach ulcers – a break in the lining of the stomach, which can cause a burning or gnawing pain in your tummy
- Gallbladder or pancreas problems – gallstones, inflammation of your gallbladder or pancreas can cause abdominal pain that radiates to your chest.
Muscle and bone causes
Some types of chest pain are associated with injuries and other problems affecting the structures that make up the chest wall, such as:
- Costochondritis – inflammation in the rib joints near the breastbone
- Sore muscles which causes pain and tenderness when touched. It may also be caused by a strained muscle in your chest wall.
- Injured ribs such as in the case of bruises or broken rib can cause chest pain.
Other possible causes
There are many other potential causes of chest pain such as;
- shingles – a viral infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it, which causes a painful rash that develops into itchy blisters
- mastitis – pain and swelling of the breast, which is usually caused by an infection, most commonly during breastfeeding
- Anxiety and panic attacks – some episodes of chest pain occur as part of;
Symptoms of chest pain
Chest pain can cause many different sensations depending on what’s triggering the symptom. Often, symptoms includes;
- Pressure, fullness, burning or tightness in your chest
- Crushing pain that radiates to your back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and one or both arms
- Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, gets worse with activity, goes away and comes back, or varies in intensity
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats
- Dizziness or weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble swallowing
- Pain that gets better or worse when you change your body position
- Pain that intensifies when you breathe deeply or cough
- Tenderness when you push on your chest
- Pain that is persistently present for many hours
Taking care of yourself at home
General self-care tips include:
- Follow your doctor’s advice about treatment.
- In the first few days at home, try to take it easy.
- Rest if you feel tired.
- Slowly increase your activity, as you are able.
- There is no need to limit work or strenuous activity, including sex, if you feel well.
- Even if you feel well, follow up for medical check up.
Ways to reduce your risk of heart attack include:
- Quit smoking
- Be physically active – enjoy moderate physical activity for 30 to 45 minutes or more on most if not all days of the week
- Eat a healthy diet – enjoy a diet low in fat and eat plenty of wholegrains, vegetables and fruit
- Lose weight – keep a healthy weight by eating a good diet and exercising regularly
- Have regular check-ups – see your doctor for regular check-ups.