hest pain comes in many forms, ranging from a sharp stab to a dull ache. Chest pain sometimes feels like crushing or burning. In certain cases, the pain travels up the neck, into the jaw, and then extends to the back or down one or both arms.
There are many different problems that cause chest pain. The most life-threatening causes involve the heart or lungs. Because chest pain can indicate a serious problem, it is important to seek immediate medical help.
Chest pain can cause varying sensations, depending on the cause of the symptoms. Often there’s no connection between the cause and your heart — however, there’s no easy way to be sure without seeing a doctor.
Heart-related chest pain
Although chest pain is often associated with heart disease, many heart patients report a vague unpleasant feeling that doesn’t necessarily qualify as pain. In general, a chest discomfort associated with a heart attack or other heart problem may be described or associated with one or more of the following:
Heaviness, fullness, burning or tightness in the chest
Crushing or dull pain that radiates to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders, and one or both arms
Pain that lasts more than a few minutes, increases with movement or activity, and subsides and returns, or varies in intensity
shortness of breath
dizziness or weakness
Nausea or vomiting
Other types of chest pain
Heart-related chest pain can be difficult to differentiate from other chest pain. However, chest pain that is not related to the heart is most likely associated with:
A stinging taste or feeling of food coming back into your mouth
Does it get better or worse when you change your body position?
Pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
Pain when pressing on the chest
Pain that lasts for several hours
The classic symptoms of heartburn (heartburn) — a painful burning sensation behind the breastbone — may be due to problems with the heart or stomach.
When do you visit the doctor?
If you feel new or unexplained chest pain, or suspect you’re having a heart attack, seek emergency medical help right away.
Chest pain has many possible causes, all of which need medical attention.
Heart related causes
Examples of heart-related chest pain causes include:
heart attack; A heart attack results from a blockage in the blood flow to the heart muscle, often due to a blood clot.
heart attack. Angina is a term describing chest pain caused by poor blood flow to the heart. This often causes thick plaques to build up on the inner walls of the arteries that carry blood to the heart. These plaques narrow the arteries and reduce the blood supply to the heart, especially during exertion.
Aortic dissection. This life-threatening disease affects the main artery extending from the heart (the aorta). If the inner layers of blood vessels separate, blood is pushed between the layers and can rupture the aorta.
pericarditis; This inflammation occurs in the sac surrounding the heart. This usually causes sharp pain that gets worse when you breathe in or when you lie down.
Causes related to the digestive system
Chest pain can cause digestive disorders, including:
heartburn; This painful, burning sensation behind your breastbone occurs when stomach fluid from your stomach moves up the tube that connects your throat to your stomach (esophagus).
swallowing disorders; Disorders of the esophagus can make swallowing difficult or even painful.
Gallbladder and pancreas problems. Gallstones, cholecystitis or pancreatitis can cause abdominal pain that radiates to the chest.
Bone and muscle causes
Some types of chest pain are associated with injuries and other problems that affect the structures that make up the chest wall, including:
Costochondritis. In this condition, the cartilage of the rib cage, especially the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone, becomes inflamed and painful.
muscle pain; Chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, can result in persistent muscle-related chest pain.
Rib injuries. A broken or bruised rib can cause chest pain.
Lung related causes
Many lung disorders can result in chest pain, including:
Pulmonary embolism. It occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in a lung (pulmonary) artery, blocking blood flow to the lung tissue.
pleurisy; If the membrane covering the lungs becomes inflamed, it can cause chest pain that gets worse when you breathe in or cough.
Lung prolapse. Chest pain associated with pulmonary depression usually begins suddenly and can last up to four hours and is generally associated with shortness of breath. Lung prolapse occurs when air leaks into the area between the lung and the ribs.
Pulmonary hypertension. This condition occurs when you have high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs, which can cause chest pain.
Chest pain can also be caused by:
Panic attacks. If at times you experience intense fear, accompanied by chest pain, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, heavy sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and fear of death, you may be having a panic attack.
herpes zoster; Shingles, caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, can cause pain and a cluster of blisters from the back to the chest wall.
First aid for chest pain depends on the cause. Causes of chest pain can range from small problems, such as heartburn or stress, to serious medical emergencies such as a heart attack or a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
It can be difficult to determine whether chest pain is due to a heart attack or another health problem, especially if you haven’t had chest pain before. Don’t try to diagnose the cause yourself. And seek emergency medical help if you have unexplained chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes.
A heart attack usually causes chest pain that lasts more than 15 minutes. This pain may be mild or severe. Some people have heart attacks suddenly, but in many cases patients develop warning signs several hours or days before a heart attack.
A person having a heart attack may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
Chest pain, pressure or tightness in the chest, or a squeezing or aching sensation in the middle of the chest
Pain or discomfort that radiates to the shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw, or teeth, and in some cases may reach the upper part of the intestine
Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
shortness of breath
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
Women’s chest pain does not have to be severe or even the most obvious symptom. Rather, women tend to have more vague symptoms, such as nausea, back or jaw pain, which may be more severe than chest pain.
If there’s a chance that you or someone else is having a heart attack, follow these first aid steps:
Call 911 (or the emergency number in your city) or seek emergency medical help. Don’t ignore the symptoms of a heart attack. If you can’t get an ambulance or emergency car for you, ask a neighbor or friend to take you to the nearest hospital. Don’t drive yourself unless you have no other options. As your condition may worsen, driving can put you and others at risk.
Chew an aspirin. Aspirin is an anticoagulant. And it works to prevent clots from forming, and it also maintains blood flow through the narrowed artery that led to the heart attack. Don’t take aspirin if chest pain is due to an injury. Also, do not take aspirin if you are allergic to it or have bleeding problems, or if you are taking any other anticoagulant, or if your doctor previously advised you not to take it.
Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed to you. If you think you’re having a heart attack and your doctor has previously prescribed nitroglycerin, take it as directed by your doctor. Do not take nitroglycerin prescribed to anyone else.
Begin CPR for the person having a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends starting CPR with only two hands. Push the person’s chest hard and fast at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
If an automatic defibrillator is immediately available and the person is unconscious, follow the instructions for use of the device.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort due to a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle. Angina is a relatively common condition, but it can be difficult to distinguish from other types of chest pain, such as pain from indigestion.
Angina may be stable or unstable.
Stable angina is chest pain that appears with activity and is somewhat predictable. Chest pain may follow a pattern. In other words, the frequency and duration of chest pain does not change.
Unstable angina is chest pain that is sudden, recent, or a change in the usual pattern. It may be a sign of a future heart attack.
If angina worsens or changes in pattern, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lung. It occurs when a clot, usually in the leg or pelvis, breaks loose and attaches to the pulmonary artery. This clot obstructs blood flow, making it more difficult for the lungs to supply the rest of the body with oxygen.
Pulmonary embolism signs and symptoms also include:
Sudden sharp chest pain often accompanied by shortness of breath
Sudden, unexplained shortness of breath, even without pain
Coughing that can lead to bloody sputum
Rapid heartbeat accompanied by shortness of breath
Swollen only one leg due to a blood clot in the leg
Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. If a person has symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, emergency medical care should be sought immediately.
An aortic dissection is a tear in the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel that branches off from the heart. During this tear, blood rushes into the middle layer of the aorta, causing the inner and middle layers to separate (dissection). Aortic dissection is a life-threatening problem that requires emergency medical treatment.
Typical signs and symptoms include:
Severe chest or upper back pain, often described as a sensation of tearing, tearing, or shearing, that radiates to the neck or lower back
loss of consciousness (fainting)
shortness of breath
Sudden difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness or paralysis of one side of the body, such as in a stroke
Double the pulse in one arm compared to the other
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, it may be caused by an aortic dissection or another serious condition. Seek emergency medical help immediately.
Pneumonia with inflammation of the pleura
Frequent signs and symptoms of pneumonia are chest pain accompanied by chills, fever, and coughing, which may produce bloody or foul-smelling sputum. Pleuritis is inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lung (pleura) and can cause chest pain when breathing or coughing.
Unlike a heart attack, a sign of pleural inflammation is that the pain usually eases temporarily by holding your breath or pressing on the painful area of your chest.
If you were recently diagnosed with pneumonia and then began to experience symptoms of pleuritis, contact your doctor or seek immediate medical attention to determine the cause of your chest pain. Pleuritis alone isn’t a medical emergency, but you shouldn’t attempt to make a diagnosis on your own.