What can cause chest pain? Because everyone knows that heart attacks are a potential cause of chest pain, experiencing discomfort in the chest can be a scary experience. It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience chest pains, but know that heart attacks aren’t the only things that can cause them. Here are some other possible sources.
1. Heart-Related Causes
Heart attacks are the best-known heart-related malady, but there are other heart problems that can be a cause of chest pain. Angina, pericarditis and aortic dissection are all heart issues that can lead to pain or discomfort in the chest. In angina, plaque built up in the walls of the arteries leading to the heart lower the heart’s blood supply. Angina-related pain often comes during times of stress or activity and often manifests just behind or slightly to the left of the breastbone. Moderate exercise may help to manage angina.
Aortic dissection is a very serious problem which involves stabbing, sharp, severe chest pain. Aortic dissections occur when a tear develops in the aorta (the large blood artery that carries blood away from the heart). Aortic dissections are a potentially life-threatening cause of chest pain and require immediate medical attention.
Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium (the membrane that surrounds the heart) becomes inflamed. Pericarditis can feel like a heart attack, and it occurs most commonly in men between 20 and 50, but it can also be a cause of chest pain in women. Some cases of pericarditis occur suddenly (“acute pericarditis”). These cases usually don’t last long. Chronic cases last much longer and can be harder to treat.
2. Lung-Related Causes
The heart isn’t the only thing that can lead to pain in the chest. Because the lungs are located right next to the heart, they also can be a cause of chest pain. Blood clots in the lung, inflammation of the membranes covering the lungs, collapsed lungs or overly high blood pressure in the arteries which feed the lungs can all result in pain.
3. Muscular Causes
Sometimes just having sore muscles in your chest can be a cause of chest pain. Muscular pain can result from torn or pulled muscles, trigger points in the chest muscles, or just having had a chest day at the gym recently. If one’s muscles are sore but uninjured, massage, stretching or using a foam roller can help.
4. Bone and Cartilage Causes
Similarly, injury to the ribs can be a cause of chest pain. If the ribs are bruised or broken, they can make breathing quite painful.
The cartilage that connects ribs to each other and to the breastbone can also cause discomfort. One common source of cartilage-related pain is costochondritis, which occurs when this cartilage becomes inflamed.
5. Digestive Causes
Although we tend to think of our digestive systems being in our stomachs, they can be also be a cause of chest pain. Most people have had heartburn, or acid reflux. Heartburn is caused when acid from the stomach travels up into the esophagus, and it leads to a burning sensation in the chest. Heartburn pain usually occurs in the middle of the chest, behind the breastbone. While acid reflux is a less serious form of chest pain than some others, it can cause damage in the long run if it’s left untreated.
Sometimes problems with the esophagus can also lead to pain while swallowing. This can be caused by a number of different esophageal problems, and it’s diagnosable by a doctor.
Strangely, gallbladder and pancreas problems can sometimes be a cause of chest pain. Although both of these organs are housed in the gut, they can cause pain higher up. Gallstones can sometimes lead to pains like a heart attack, and similar feelings can also result from swelling or infection in the pancreas or gallbladder. Pain from the pancreas and gallbladder doesn’t always manifest in the chest, though. Sometimes this pain is felt in the stomach, the right upper back, or the area around the shoulder blade.
6. Emotional Causes
Can anxiety cause chest pain? Yes! Chest pain is a common symptom of panic attacks. Because anxiety can lead to hyperventilation and bloating, and because it can even cause psychosomatic pain, it is entirely possible for chest pains to be caused by emotion.
Chest pain resulting in anxiety can often be reduced by breathing deeply, thinking calm thoughts, practicing meditation techniques and, when necessary, getting out of stressful situations.
See a Doctor
Information in this article is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Because it’s impossible to know the cause of chest pain without examination, we strongly urge you see a doctor any time you experience chest pains. This can help you to rule out potentially dangerous causes and help you to know how you can manage or prevent similar pains in the future.
- Heart-related causes
- Stable angina
- Aortic dissection
- What is Pericarditis?
- Digestive Disorders Health Center
- Anxiety Chest Pain Is Not a Heart Attack!