It refers to any pain you experience from the jaw down to the ribs. Pain in the chest is the second biggest reason why most people end up in the emergency room. It accounts for over 8 million emergency room visits each year in the United States. It manifests in different forms and can range from full to sharp stabbing pain. Most pains you experience in your chest don’t point to a severe issue, but it’s always good to seek medical help if you experience any form of pain in your chest area.
In some cases, the pain can travel from the neck to the jaw down your back and to one or both arms. Never ignore your pains. It is the biggest symptom of a life-threatening complication like a heart attack in some cases.
Types of Chest Pain
There are different types of chest-related pain. Each type depends on the underlying cause and the location of the pain.
Heart-Related Chest Pain
Known as the most severe type of pain you can experience. Heart-related chest pains, if not addressed, could lead to severe complications and even death. Heart-related pain occurs due to problems like:
- Heart attack: This is a heart complication caused by a blockage or reduction in the flow of blood entering the heart. Heart attack is similar to angina chest pain, but it’s more severe.
- Angina: This is the pain that occurs due to blocked blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. Angina occurs as a pressure or squeezing pain in the chest.
- Pericarditis: This inflammation occurs in the sac that surrounds the heart.
- Myocarditis: This is the inflammation that occurs in the heart’s muscle.
- Cardiomyopathy: This is a genetic condition where the heart muscle grows too thick. This results in extra work for the heart since it works harder to pump blood. Over time, cardiomyopathy results in heart failure.
- Aortic dissection: A rare but life-threatening heart condition where a tear develops in the aorta.
Gastrointestinal-Related Chest Pain
Sometimes pain in your chest can be due to gastrointestinal problems. These include:
- Acid reflux: The condition causes stomach content to flow back into your throat. The primary triggers are obesity, pregnancy, smoking, and eating fatty or spicy foods.
- Esophageal disorders: These are conditions that affect the esophagus. They cause symptoms like difficulties swallowing and pains in your chest. They include constriction, hypersensitivity, and esophageal rupture.
- Gallstones: Gallstones cause upper abdominal pain as well as chest pain. The pain mainly develops after eating.
- Peptic ulcers: Peptic ulcers are sores in the stomach lining or the upper part of the small intestine. They are common in people who take a lot of alcohol, painkillers, and cigarette smokers.
- Hiatal hernia: This type of hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes into your chest. Most of the time, it happens after eating.
- Pancreatitis: This manifests as lower pain in the chest. The pain worsens when you lean forward or lie down.
Lung-Related Chest Pains
Chest-related pain that results from lung-related conditions can lead to life-threatening complications. The pain is usually caused by the following:
- Pneumonia: Pneumonia causes extreme pain in the chest that gets worse when you breathe. It can lead to death if it’s not treated.
- Viral bronchitis: The condition occurs due to a viral infection. It leads to chest soreness and muscle aches.
- Pneumothorax: Pneumothorax is also referred to as a collapsed lung. The condition causes sudden and severe pain in the chest. When the lung collapses, it releases air into the chest cavity leading to pain that worsens when you breathe.
- Pulmonary embolism: This occurs when a blood clot travels and lodges in the lungs. The main symptoms are breathing difficulties, rapid heartbeat, and acute pleuritis.
- Bronchospasms: The condition results in chest tightness. Bronchospasm is common in asthmatic people and those diagnosed with conditions like COPD.
Bone or Muscle-related Chest Pain
At times, chest pain can result from an injury, virus, or overuse of the chest area.
- Rib problems: If you have a broken rib, it can lead to pain and inflammation. This results in pain in your chest when breathing or coughing.
- Muscle strain: Coughing too hard can lead to muscle and tendon inflammation or injury. This can end up causing chest-related pains that worsen with activity.
- Shingles: Shingles result from a virus known as the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles manifest as a band-like pain.
Symptoms of Chest Pain
Symptoms of pain in your chest differ from one individual to another, depending on the cause of the pain. Heart-related chest pain causes symptoms such as:
- Fullness, tightness, burning, and pressure in the chest
- Searing or crushing pain that spreads to the neck, back, jaw, shoulders, and arms
- Pain in your chest that lasts a couple of minutes and gets worse with physical activity
- Cold sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness and dizziness that may result in fainting spells or losing consciousness altogether
- Nausea and sometimes vomiting
Pains in your chest that aren’t caused by a heart problem leads to symptoms like:
- Sour taste and the feeling that food is flowing back to the mouth
- Swallowing difficulties
- Pain in your chest that gets worse or better when you switch your body position
- Chest-related pain that gets even more painful when coughing or even breathing
- Chest pain that lasts for several hours
- Chest tenderness, especially when you push on the chest
Diagnosis of Chest Pain
If you experience any kind of chest-related pain, make a point of going to the emergency room. Your pain, intensity, and when it occurs will be evaluated by your doctor.
- EKG or ECG test: This test records the heart’s electrical activity to diagnose any heart problems.
- Blood tests: Blood tests help measure the level of certain enzymes to test for any lung problems.
- Chest X-ray: An X-ray checks the condition of the blood vessels, heart, and lungs.
- Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves that record images of the heart to assess for any defects.
- MRI scan: This scan helps check for damages to the aorta and heart.
- Angiogram: An angiogram checks for blockages that may occur in the arteries.
- Stress tests: These tests help measure the functioning of the heart after exertion.
How to Treat Chest Pain
There are several ways of treating chest-related pains. Treatment can include medication, surgery, or any combination of any methods.
Medications: This includes medicines like nitroglycerin, blood thinners, and clot-busting drugs. Other drugs may consist of antacids if the pain is caused by acid reflux.
Cardiac catheterization: This is a non-invasive procedure that involves using stents or balloons. A stent helps to open blocked arteries.
Surgery: This is the last resolve if medication and non-invasive procedures don’t work. Surgery helps repair a damaged heart and arteries. This is through either bypass surgery or coronary bypass grafting.
Lung reinflation: This is a procedure used to repair a collapsed lung. The doctor inserts a chest tube or another device to inflate the lung.
Anxiety medications: People who suffer from panic attacks complain of pain in their chest area! Anxiety medications help treat such pain and manage panic attacks in the future.
How to Manage Chest Pain
Most of the time, pain in your chest goes away and can resolve if you make a few lifestyle changes.
- Exercise to lose weight: Exercising can help prevent some of these issues that may cause pain in your chest.
- Maintaining a healthy weight helps prevent heart attacks, pulmonary embolisms, and angina.
- Quit smoking and taking alcohol: Some conditions can worsen if you smoke or take alcohol. If you have a history of lung and heart disease, quitting smoking can go a long way in managing your symptoms.
- Manage your cholesterol and high blood pressure: This is one of the best ways of ensuring that such conditions don’t become life-threatening.
- What are the main risk factors of chest pain? It gets triggered by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Smoking also increases your risk of pain in your chest – to add to that, if your family has heart problems, this could also lead to you facing the same issues.
- Can stress lead to pain in my chest? Just like anxiety, stress can result in chest pain. In addition, stress can even worsen other existing medical conditions like high blood pressure.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment. Always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!