Chest Pain: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment

The minute one thinks about chest pain, the first thing that comes to mind is heart attack. However, chest pain does not always indicate a heart attack. It can be a sign of something very minor or a warning about a serious health condition. In this article, we shall see brief information related to the different conditions that lead to chest pain.

What is Chest Pain?

The first thing to understand is what does one mean by chest pain. Chest pain is a sensation that makes you feel a squeezing, choking or discomfort in your thoracic, that is, the chest region. This pain or discomfort can spread to the jaws, neck as well as upper abdomen region. This discomfort tends to last for a few seconds to hours. In some cases, it continues for many days or weeks. Some people may complain of constant pressure, discomfort or pain in the chest and some may describe it as sporadic pain. Thus, one cannot exactly pinpoint what leads to chest pain as this is a broad term.

What are the Symptoms of a Chest Pain?

Now, chest pain as mentioned earlier can feel like pressure, squeezing or uneasiness. There are different types of chest pains like a sharp pain, dull pain, burning sensation or feeling as if the chest in going to be crushed by a tight pressure. Each of these types of chest pain indicate a different medical problem. Along with pain one may experience:

  • Problems swallowing
  • Coughing or sneezing can worsen the pain
  • Change in position can increase the discomfort
  • One may have bitter, sour or metallic taste in mouth
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath

Thus, the doctor will first ask you to describe your pain as well as other symptoms hat you may be experiencing, to understand its medical problem.

What are the Different Causes of Chest Pain?

Chest pain is actually a symptom of an ailment. There are different coronary ailment as well as other problems in the lungs, digestive system or an infection related problem that can lead to chest pain. Let us have a look at some of these health issues that can be termed as a minor ailment and some that are serious health complications.

Heart Problems that Cause Chest Pain:

Some of the heart problems that lead to chest pain include:

  • Myocardial infarction: Also, called as heart attack, is a common reason for most chest pains. A person suffers from a heart attack when the blood flow in the arteries is blocked. When this happens, the heart muscles do not receive oxygen leading to damage and death of the muscle. Thus, one suffers from a heart attack.
  • Aortic dissection: A tear in the major artery of the heart that is aorta can lead to internal bleeding. This is called as aortic dissection that causes bleeding and disruption of blood supply to vital organs.
  • Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart muscles due to an infection autoimmune reaction, toxins or parasitic infection can lead to chest pains.
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse: Abnormal thickening of the mitral valve that prevents it from closing properly is called mitral valve prolapsed. This causes palpitations, dizziness as well as chest pain.
  • Pericarditis: The membrane or covering of the heart can become inflamed due to an infection. This causes sharp pain in the chest as well as the muscles of the neck and shoulders.

Respiratory Causes of Chest Pain

Lung disorders too can lead to pain in the chest. Some of these disorders are as follows:

  • Pulmonary embolism: When the main artery of the lung or any of its branches get blocked by a blood clot, it leads to pulmonary embolism. It leads to breathing problems, increase in heartbeat as well as acute pleuritis. This may cause chest pain in the patient.
  • Pneumonia: An infection that causes inflammation of the lung is called pneumonia. Inflammation can also occur due to autoimmune diseases, use of certain drugs as well as exposure to extreme cold. It leads to fever, breathing problems, cough as well as chest pain.
  • Pleurisy: The membranous covering of the lungs can become inflamed due to an infection. This causes one to suffer from pain during breathing.
  • Tuberculosis: The contagious bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis leads to infection of the lungs. This causes fever, weight loss, coughing of blood as well as chest pains as some of the symptoms of the infection.

Digestive Problems Causing Chest Pain

Disorders affecting the stomach and other parts of the digestive system can lead to chest pain. Some of these include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease : The main cause for heartburn is GERD. It occurs when the stomach acid rises up into the esophagus leading to a burning sensation in the chest and throat.
  • Esophageal contraction disorder: This is a disorder where the muscles of the esophagus fail to contact or contract quickly leading to swallowing difficulty. This will cause a lot of pain as well as discomfort in the chest.
  • Dyspepsia: Indigestion is one of the causes of chest pain. It leads to bloating, nausea as well as heartburn.

Chest Problems causing Chest Pain

There are many problems related to the chest that can lead to chest pain. Some of these pains include:

  • Fibromyalgia: It is a chronic condition where one suffers from pain all over the body. It causes joint stiffness, problems swallowing. Numbness, tingling, etc.. It can be one of the reasons for chronic chest pain in some individuals.
  • Texidor’s Twinge: A common reason that leads to chest pain is Texidor’s Twinge or Precordial Catch Syndrome (PCS). The pain occurs between the bones of the sternum and rib cage that feels like a heart attack. However, it subsides on its own without any treatment.
  • Bruised Ribs: Any injury, bruising, fracture in the rib(s) can lead to chest pain.
  • Shingles: An infection of herpes zoster virus causes shingles. It leads to a painful rash on any place over the body. If this rash appears on the back, stomach or chest, it may cause one to suffer from sharp pain in the chest.

Psychological Problems Causing Chest Pain

Many times, one may suffer from mental health problems that leads to pain in the chest. Some of these psychological problems include:

  • Anxiety: This is a psychological as well as a physiological condition wherein one suffers from extreme fear and concern. In this state, one may suffer from chest pain.
  • Hypochondria: A condition where the person is under constant worry of having a serious illness. The person may feel that he/she is suffering from pain, for example in the chest. This may be one of the reasons for complaining regarding chest pain.

Diagnosing Chest Pain

As we have seen there are many causes of chest pain, other than heart attack. In order to detect the exact cause of chest pain, the doctor may conduct a few tests. These tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • CT Scan
  • Stress tests
  • Complete blood count

Treatment for Chest Pain

When one develops sudden pressure or tightness in the chest, they should immediately contact a doctor. This crushing pain may spread to the jaw, shoulder, or back. One may suffer from shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, excessive sweating or very low blood pressure. These symptoms require one to call their doctor and ask for advise. The doctor may examine the patient and advise some of the following treatments:

  • Prescribe antacids in case of indigestion, GERD or similar digestive problems causing chest pain.
  • Blood thinners for patients who suffer from blood clots like in case of pulmonary embolism.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs for people with panic attacks or anxiety.
  • Surgical treatments that include bypass surgery, placing balloons or stents in order to open a clogged artery in the heart.
  • Antibiotic treatment for patients suffering from pneumonia.
  • Pain killers and muscle relaxants for those who have suffered from chest trauma due to an accident or rib fracture.

These are some of the treatments offered for treating chest pain. It can be as simple as a viral flu that causes chest blockage leading to pain. Or it can be a serious health problem that could lead to catastrophe if not treated on time. Thus, if you suffer from anything unusual suddenly like crushing pain in chest, loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, headache, pain radiating to the jaws  and shoulders, seek immediate medical help.


OHSU knight cardiovascular institute

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