- What Is
- 32 Causes
- Bone Problems
- Other Causes
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- Medical Emergency
What Is Chest Pain?
- Tearing (or ripping)
- Palpitations (uneasiness or discomfort in chest because of a rapid heartbeat)
Chest Pain: 32 Causes
Chest pain may be caused by many different problems; although many people think chest pain is due only to problems with the heart, this is not true. Chest pain may arise as a result of problems with any of the structures located between the neck and the upper part of the abdomen.
The following is a list of tissues and organs that when disease is present may result in chest pain:
- Chest muscles
- Bones (ribs, sternum, and clavicles for example)
- Gastrointestinal tract
Some causes of chest pain are medical emergencies (most heart problems, for example) and need to be evaluated immediately by medical caregivers. If you have chest pain and are unsure of the cause, seek medical attention immediately to have medical personnel evaluate you for the cause of your chest pain.
The following are 32 potential causes of chest pain stemming from all sorts of different conditions -- each discussed in detail in this article.
- Coronary artery disease
- Myocardial infarction
- Viral infection of heart tissue
- Heart palpitations
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Hiatal hernia
- Rupture, perforation, or inflammation of the esophagus
- Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
- Pancreatic duct blockage
- Pancreatic cancer
- Pulmonary embolism
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Collapsed lung
- Chest muscle overuse inflammation (as for coughing)
- Nerve pain caused by trauma damage
- Nerve pain from shingles or other infections causing damage
- Rib fracture
- Bone cancer in the ribs or sternum
- Panic attacks
- Mental stress
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Diaphragm inflammation
- Mitral valve prolapse
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Heart problems are a common cause of chest pain. Coronary artery disease may result in a reduced blood flow to the heart tissue. The sharp pain it can cause is termed angina. This pain may spread to the left arm, both arms, shoulders, upper back, and even cause pain in the jaw. It may also cause pain in the back of the chest. Exercising, working hard, going up a flight of stairs or even emotional stress can trigger this chest pain. Another common cause of heart-related the 1 last update 16 Jul 2020 pain is a myocardial infarction or “heart attack.” This is due to a significant reduction or complete blockage of blood flow to an area of the heart muscle. Myocardial infarction often causes crushing or squeezing pain and/or tightness in the chest; this heart problem is a medical emergency.Heart problems are a common cause of chest pain. Coronary artery disease may result in a reduced blood flow to the heart tissue. The sharp pain it can cause is termed angina. This pain may spread to the left arm, both arms, shoulders, upper back, and even cause pain in the jaw. It may also cause pain in the back of the chest. Exercising, working hard, going up a flight of stairs or even emotional stress can trigger this chest pain. Another common cause of heart-related pain is a myocardial infarction or “heart attack.” This is due to a significant reduction or complete blockage of blood flow to an area of the heart muscle. Myocardial infarction often causes crushing or squeezing pain and/or tightness in the chest; this heart problem is a medical emergency.
Other conditions may also cause heart muscle problems. In general, anything that causes the heart muscle to become inflamed (a viral infection of heart tissue, for example) can result in myocarditis (damage to the heart muscle due to inflammation). This can result in discomfort or palpitations in the chest along with shortness of breath. Abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) may result in regular or irregular heartbeats that can be too fast or slow. Fast heartbeats may result in palpitation symptoms, while slow heartbeats may result in weakness and difficulty breathing. The major blood vessels that are connected to the heart can be damaged by weakness or elevated pressure (hypertension) resulting in arterial dissection or tearing of the vessels. A person experiencing arterial dissection may have severe chest pain similar to that of a myocardial infarction. This situation is also a medical emergency.
IMAGESCauses of Chest Pain: Signs and Symptoms See a detailed medical illustration of the heart plus our entire medical gallery of human anatomy and physiology See Images
Gastrointestinal (GI) Causes of Chest Pain
Some parts of the gastrointestinal tract lie between the neck and the upper abdomen. Problems with GI tract organs or organs or structures connected to the GI tract may cause pain in the chest region. The following problems may result in discomfort or pain that may be interpreted as chest pain:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), resulting often in a burning pain
- Hiatal hernia (burning discomfort)
- Rupture, perforation, or inflammation of the esophagus, resulting in moderate to severe chest pain that increases with breathing, swallowing, and/or vomiting
- Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), gallstones, or intermittent or complete bile duct blockage, resulting in intermittent or constant aching pain
- Pancreatitis, pancreatic duct blockage, or pancreatic cancer, producing relatively constant upper abdominal and/or lower chest pain that can radiate to the back and may increase when eating
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The lungs are a well-known source of chest pain when certain conditions are present. Some of the problems that cause chest pain include:
- Pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in a pulmonary artery can cause chest discomfort and/or shortness of breath with pain that can be sharp, stabbing, burning, or aching)
- Pulmonary hypertension (elevated pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs can cause chest pressure or pain)
- Pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane that covers the lungs causes intermittent chest pain with localized tenderness in the chest with breathing and/or coughing)
- Collapsed lung (sudden onset of sharp chest pain on the side of the chest where the lung collapsed and shortness of breath that is relatively constant)
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs that may cause sharp or stabbing chest pain especially with breathing and coughing, usually associated with fever, muscle aches, and fatigue)
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Muscle or Nerve Disorders That Cause Chest Pain
Muscles in the chest and their supportive components such as ligaments can become injured during trauma or inflamed because of overuse even during severe coughing spells. The resulting chest pain is usually described as constant or intermittent and worsens (for example, goes from an ache to sharp pain) with activity or coughing. The area is tender when it is pressed or moved.
Nerve pain in the chest can come from any chest nerves that are pinched, cut, or crushed by trauma. However, one source of burning and/or sharp pain in the chest can be caused by shingles. Herpes zoster viruses remain in the body for years after a chickenpox infection and may later reactivate and follow the nerve distribution on the chest, usually producing a sharp pain in a band on one side of the chest. This chest pain may occur before the characteristic rash of shingles develops.
QUESTIONIn the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer
Bone Problems That Cause Chest Pain
The ribs and the sternum are the two bone areas most often associated with chest pain. Trauma can cause rib fractures that produce sharp pain when moving the chest, especially when taking deep breaths. Rib cancers also can produce chest pain. Pain and tenderness may occur at or near the site of the cancer while the affected bone area produces a more constant dull pain or aching in the chest. Inflammation may occur at the junctions where the ribs meet the sternum. This condition is called costochondritis. The area is tender when palpated and when the person moves in certain directions or takes deep breaths. This pain is often reproducible when palpating the sternum.
Psychological Causes of Chest Pain
Psychological disorders such as anxiety, mental stress, and/or panic attacks can cause people to have sharp chest pains and rapid heartbeats that may result in a tightness or discomfort in the chest. The psychological disorders that cause chest pain are usually accompanied by fear, a sense of doom, or anxiety. These disorders are often accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid breathing, and sweating along with chest pain.
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