Causes of Chest Pain
Chest pain can typically be related to a cardiac condition but can also be a symptom of various other conditions involving the respiratory system, digestive system, bones and muscles, and other physical and mental health aspects.
Though Chest problems it is not always necessarily associated with a life-threatening condition, chest pain should never be neglected irrespective of how mild it is. Chest pain can be experienced anywhere between your neck, middle of the chest, and the upper abdominal region of your body. Based on the causative factor’s chest pain can be of different types including stabbing pain, aching pain, sharp pain, burning sensation, dull pain, and a tight/squeezing sensation.
Signs of a medical emergency
It is important to understand what chest pain symptoms must be considered as a medical emergency and when prompt treatment is required, in order to avoid major complications in the future.
Some important signs and chest pain symptoms to look out for and seek emergency care include:
- Shortness of breath: Difficulty in breathing along with chest pain, may be a sign of heart attack as your heart is struggling to pump blood to your body.
- Nausea: A sensation that makes you feel like vomiting, accompanied by severe headaches, difficulty in breathing, and a tight crushing sensation in the chest, requires emergency medical care.
- Light-headedness: A sensation that makes you feel like you are going to faint, along with chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath, may be a sign of stroke or heart attack.
- Cold sweats: It refers to abnormal sweating which does not occur due to heavy exercise or heat but occurs as a response to insufficient oxygen supply. Cold sweats along with chest pain, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, and pain in the jaw/neck/back/stomach may be a sign of heart attack.
What causes chest pain?
Chest pain in the majority of the cases is related to heart conditions, although it can be caused due to various other problems in the stomach, lungs, oesophagus, nerves, muscles, ribs, etc. If you have chest pain that you are unable to explain, it is best to get yourself examined by a doctor to determine the cause and receive the right treatment.
Some common causes of chest pain include:
- Coronary artery disease: It refers to blocked arteries of the heart, causing insufficient blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart muscle. This type of chest pain is known as angina, and it can spread to the shoulder, arm, jaw, and back.
- Heart attack: It refers to damaged heart muscle cells due to reduced blood flow, causing more severe pain usually in the left side or center of the chest.
- Myocarditis: Infection or inflammation of the heart muscle is called myocarditis. It causes chest pain similar to a heart attack accompanied by fever and fatigue.
- Pericarditis: It refers to infection or inflammation of the pericardium (the membrane surrounding the heart), causing chest pain similar to angina.
- Pleuritis: Inflammation of the lining of lungs which can cause chest pain while coughing, sneezing or breathing.
- Pneumonia: Lung infection causing a deep, aching type of chest pain.
- Pneumothorax: Collapse of the lungs and air in the chest cavity, causing chest pain while breathing.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): A combination of lung diseases leading to obstruction of airflow and difficulty in breathing. It causes chest pain, pressure, and tightness.
- Asthma: It can sometimes cause chest pain due to shortness of breath.
- Acid reflux: It is also known as heartburn, where stomach acids move back upwards into the throat. It causes a burning sensation in the chest.
- Oesophageal disorders: Oesophageal muscle contractions, hypersensitivity, and rupture can all cause chest pain.
- Peptic ulcer: Damage to the lining of the stomach or small intestine causing pain or burning sensation in the lower chest region.
- Pancreatitis: Infection and inflammation of the pancreas, causing lower chest pain.
- Hiatal hernia: It is a condition where the upper part of the stomach pushes up into the chest region, causing chest pain.
- Gall bladder issues: Problems in the gall bladder can cause pain in the lower right chest region.
Other causes of chest pain
Other problems that can cause chest pain may include chest injuries, problems with bones, muscles, nerves, damage to the ribs, muscle strain, anxiety, stress, and panic attacks.
When to see a doctor?
It is recommended to see a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden, sharp chest pain not relieved with medications or other measures
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid, abnormal heartbeat with nausea, dizziness, and excessive sweating
- Pain spreading to your left arm, jaw, or back
- Extremely low blood pressure
- Extreme pressure chest heaviness and chest tightness
- Fever, chills, vomiting, and light-headedness.
Dr Gobu P
Senior Consultant & Interventional Cardiologist – Institute of Cardiac Sciences
MD. (Gen. Med), DM (Cardiology), FIMSA, FESC